Research by a Charles Sturt University master’s graduate will provide evidence-based data to inform education, policy and practice about people living with dementia within the aged care sector.
Ms Ella Critchley (pictured), who lives in Melbourne, graduated in the Charles Sturt School of Social Work and Arts with a Master of Ageing and Health (Gerontology) when her award was conferred with more than 3,200 Charles Sturt graduates on Friday 3 December.
Ella’s master’s dissertation (October 2021) titled ‘Understanding Dementia: A quantitative study of dementia literacy among formal carers working in aged care in Australia’ explores the dementia literacy, including knowledge, understanding and beliefs, of formal carers working in a paid role with older people in Australia.
Her research findings are timely given the significant issues around workforce training and capacity identified in the recommendations of the Inquiry into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
Ella is a registered nurse, who has worked with older adults for 20 years, and is also a volunteer helping to reduce social isolation in older adults via the Befriendas program run by the National Ageing Research Institute.
“The growing incidence of dementia globally and in Australia is a public health concern,” Ella said.
“There is a pressing need for efficient and effective aged care services to deliver person-centred and consumer-directed care, and consequently there is a high demand for a skilled, competent and knowledgeable frontline workforce.
“In the aged care sector in Australia, formal carers provide diverse and varied support to older people and people living with dementia, and we know that those living with dementia want to remain autonomous and live independently in the comfort of their homes and communities.”
Ella’s study aimed to better understand formal carers’ dementia literacy within Australia to provide evidence-based data to inform education, policy and practice within the aged care sector.
Her research centred on the question, ‘What is the dementia literacy of formal carers who provide care to people receiving home and community support or residential aged care within Australia?’.
A convenience sample of 71 formal carers across five Australian states and territories provided demographic information including education, hours worked per week and total length of time in the aged care sector.
Respondents completed an online version of the Dementia Knowledge Assessment Scale 2 (DKAS 2), with dementia literacy compared against demographic categories. Correct responses regarding risks and health promotion of dementia were low at 52 per cent.
Ella said the findings highlighted ongoing issues associated with the knowledge care staff have about risk factors associated with dementia, revealing deficits in their literacy about the onset of dementia and the use of psychotropic medications in responding to presenting symptoms.
“The understanding of these risks is key to reducing the incidence, emphasising the need to incorporate risk reduction strategies through targeted awareness campaigns,” she said.
“Dementia is generally progressive and affects each person differently, therefore, understanding the types and onset is paramount to providing individualised care.
“Increasing this knowledge can be achieved through informal workplace learning opportunities and overall experience in the industry, which plays a significant role in increasing dementia literacy, as supported by this research.”
The research highlights the critical need of retaining a skilled front-line workforce through direct industry-led education, building on individuals’ strengths and partnerships to develop the structural and foundational influences of dementia literacy of this frontline workforce.
“These collaborative partnerships ─ of people living with dementia, formal carers, policy-makers, aged care and educational organisations, as influential and important stakeholders ─ would aim to enhance literacy, which in turn will improve quality of life and healthy ageing outcomes for people living with dementia in Australia,” she said.
Ella said she chose to study her master’s degree at Charles Sturt due to the flexibility of the course structure and being able to study part-time, which allowed an opportunity to balance study, work and home life.
“The program was exceptionally attractive as the subjects pertained to contemporary areas of gerontology, including dementia needs and care requirements, leadership and professional practice and social policy, ageing and professional practice, for example, all with a predominant focus on healthy ageing,” she said.
“What I liked most about studying with Charles Sturt University was the availability, support and guidance shown by the subject coordinators, who are experts in their disciplines, and generously share their knowledge and enthusiasm for successful ageing enhanced my learning.
“The encouragement and assistance provided by librarians as well as data analysis experts was of immense benefit in ensuring I thrived as a student.”
Ella said studying at Charles Sturt has provided her with the drive to continue her passion for learning and growing as a researcher, with the goal to complete a PhD and continue to contribute to research in the field of gerontology.
For students thinking about studying a higher degree, Ella said Charles Sturt provides students with the skills and knowledge to strive for excellence.
“The University holds a high standard of teaching and sharing knowledge and expertise to ensure students excel through their studies,” she said. “The subjects are exceptionally interesting and provide a foundation to thrive as an expert health care clinician.”