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Million dollar research projects aiming to protect seniors

Protecting seniors living in residential aged care is the primary focus of two new major research projects announced by the Australian Government.

The Australian Government has announced two research projects dedicated to protecting seniors (Source: Shutterstock)
The Australian Government has announced two research projects dedicated to protecting seniors (Source: Shutterstock)

The research into understanding how antimicrobial resistance is transmitted and spread in residential aged care comes off the back of a deadly 2017 flu season and an increase in antibiotic resistance across the nation.

Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt acknowledged the new research, stating that the rise of so-called superbug infections is a “challenge for healthcare professionals, sometimes leaving them with limited or no available treatment options”.

He adds that it is an “increasing problem worldwide” and that “reducing the threat and ensuring people in aged care are as safe as possible is a top priority, with a variety of factors contributing to both a high use of antibiotics and a heightened risk of infection, including from drug-resistant bacteria.”

The Minister further highlights that these factors include the close living proximity of residents, multiple medical conditions, poor immune systems, poor mobility, and frequent transfer of residents to and from hospitals.

“Increasing our understanding of how antimicrobial resistance is transmitted and spread is residential aged care facilities is crucial and is a strategic priority for Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF),” he says.

Under its Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance program, the MRFF will provide:

  • $1.4 million to SAMRI for a project led by Associate Professor Geraint Rogers which will analyse samples from 400 residents of 10 aged care facilities to determine the different modes of transmission of resistant bacteria and inform future strategies to limit the spread of antimicrobial resistance in residential aged care facilities
  • $1.1 million to a project led by Dr Henrietta Venter of the University of South Australia which will measure the spread of resistant bacteria, including in wastewater, from three residential aged care facilities; research that will inform antimicrobial resistance risk assessment and guide future policy controls to curb the spread of antimicrobial resistance to, within and from residential aged care facilities

Minister Wyatt says the research will “help understand the spread of infections within aged care homes, and between these facilities, hospitals and other settings”.

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Pat Sparrow has welcomed the two research projects, saying the new research will protect a “vulnerable cohort of residents” who might be resistant to antibiotics.

“We want to see as many residents and staff as possible protected against the threat of deadly infection,” Ms Sparrow continues.

“These two research projects of the Medical Research Future Fund will hopefully glean new insights into how antimicrobial resistance is spread in the setting of an aged care facility and, in turn, help providers to keep residents safe from the spread of infection.”

ACSA has also welcomed another government announcement which has introduced free flu vaccinations for all Australians over 65 for the “extra protection” it provides those vulnerable to infection in residential aged care, following last year’s flu season, which Ms Sparrow says was a “reminder of the devastation the spread of infection brings older Australians and their families”.

“Making protection against flu a priority in the older population recognises how devastating influenza can be for this part of the population where infection spread quickly and vaccination is often less effective,” Ms Sparrow says.

“Extending a new, stronger version of the flu vaccine for free to this cohort will help support aged care providers in their efforts to safeguard residents and staff through their own immunisation programs.”

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