Dementia and homelessness

Dementia and homelessness discussion paper launched

Cross-sector collaboration is required if we are to best support homeless people with dementia.

Dementia Australia is urging the homelessness, dementia, health and aged care sectors to work more closely with one another to share knowledge, training and services. The organisation believes cross-sector collaboration will help ensure people who are homeless and living with dementia receive the most appropriate support.

A new discussion paper titled Homelessness and Dementia aims to address sector knowledge gaps and provide information to improve services and outcomes for people living with dementia and who are homeless.

Dementia Australia National CEO, Maree McCabe, said: “there are significant numbers of homeless people living with cognitive impairment, including dementia, yet little is known about them or their needs. For that reason, they often fall through the cracks. We need to work together to ensure they have access to services and supports that meet their needs.

“This discussion paper aims to contribute towards a better awareness and understanding of homeless people living with dementia, while providing valuable information and education to shape future programs and ensure service providers are best meeting the needs of homeless people living with dementia.” 

The paper is based on extensive consultations with professionals working closely with homeless communities in South Australia, and also draws upon the findings of a broad review of relevant literature. 

This research confirms that significant rates of dementia exist among homeless people, with the condition conservatively estimated to affect 10% of the overall homeless population, and with much higher rates found among older homeless people.

“We would like to see workers from the homelessness sector develop improved awareness and understanding of cognitive impairment and dementia. At the same time, we hope that workers from the dementia, health and aged care sectors will commit to gaining an improved understanding of the unique service and care needs of homeless people who are also living with dementia,” Ms McCabe said.

Other issues highlighted in the paper include the lack of routine assessments for cognitive impairment and dementia among homeless people, with symptoms often being attributed to mental health problems, traumatic brain injury or substance abuse.

Beyond improved and consistent methods of cognitive assessment, the paper also focuses on the importance of providing homeless people impacted by dementia with ongoing support, information and referral pathways to housing and care services.

The paper also highlights the lack of access to aged care services among homeless people with dementia, due to financial barriers. Positive examples of successful initiatives in this area, which may provide useful models for broader implementation in the future, are included.

In addition, the project found there to be support across all sectors for professionals working with homeless people to take a health promotion and risk reduction approach, by focusing on the potentially modifiable dementia risk factors, including diet, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption and smoking.

The discussion paper Homelessness and Dementia has been developed as part of Dementia Australia’s Service Delivery Pathways Project (SDPP), which is funded by the Australian Government.