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Change Puts Elderly Services At Risk

More change to the health system has the potential to put local elderly health services at risk, National Associate Health spokesperson Lynda Scott said today.

"The Press's series on elderly care raises a range of issues and they need to be resolved - but more restructuring won't do it.

"For 25 years I have worked in the area of health services for older people, first as a nurse and owner/operator of a 12 bed rest home, then as a doctor who specialised as a geriatrician.

" A large percentage of the elderly wish to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. It was the elderly who called for the ageing-in-place policy. But it needs more commitment and resources to make it work well.

"I don't think scrapping the local HHS with its special responsibility for services for older people and mental health, and which has given these services a more independent and higher profile, is the right move.

"The sole District Health Board in Christchurch will have to grapple with the needs of elderly clients. Now that these two HHS are under one board, the board must ensure these two areas do not lose their focus or funding.

"It is also disappointing that the previous Minister Ruth Dyson failed to secure adequate extra funding. There's only an extra $10million for disability support throughout New Zealand. This is totally inadequate to cover the needs of the elderly and the younger disabled. The HFA has not given rest homes and geriatric hospitals an increase in four years. With the new ERA, wages will increase and services may suffer if they do not receive adequate funding.

"Ageing-in-place can work well. In the early 1990s if you had more than $2,300 in the bank, you received no state funded home help. In 1995 that changed, with a community services card and an assessed disability you can have home help and household management provided.

"The essential element is getting the balance right between home care and residential care. It may be more risky to live at home but if that is an older person's wish and they are competent to make that choice it is their right to do so. The problem with dementia is that the point is reached when the client no longer recognises they are unsafe in their own home. So, telling your mother or father that they are no longer capable of living alone can be very stressful for some families.

"When dealing with memory loss, it is essential that there is a diagnosis of the cause. Reversible conditions such as hypothyroidism, pseudo dementia from depression and medication side effects must be picked up. This requires good assessment by skilled professionals . "The ageing-in-place policy can be improved but it requires this Government to show some commitment to it."

Ends


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