Australia has been officially polio-free since the year 2000 and the disease a long-forgotten part of our nation’s history for most people. However, polio’s legacy lives on for the estimated tens of thousands of Australian polio survivors . To better understand late effects of polio and post-polio syndrome, the aged care sector is encouraged to take part in workshops to improve care for polio survivors.
The polio epidemics in Australia peaked in the 1950s and left thousands of Australians permanently affected by the disease. For those who survived, all are above the age of 50, and may be beginning to experience late effects of polio or post-polio syndrome, with most survivors eventually developing symptoms .
Mark Townend, CEO of Spinal Life Australia, says many health professionals lack awareness of post-polio conditions, or are ill-informed when it comes to treatment and care. Polio survivors can experience a variety of debilitating symptoms, and there are currently no available medications to prevent or reverse muscle atrophy and other effects of post-polio conditions , which is why proper care is vital.
“Aged care providers are an important part of our community – caring for many of us as we age. It’s so important that knowledge and awareness of post-polio conditions and the impacts are known to aged care facility operators, administrators, and staff, in order to better care for the survivors of this terrible disease,” Mr Townend says.
“Some of the symptoms associated with post-polio conditions include muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, scoliosis, chronic tendonitis and respiratory problems, and in some cases muscle atrophy. Because it’s currently not possible to treat some of these issues with medication, survivors not receiving adequate care are forced to suffer in silence as their bodies deteriorate.
“The best way to ensure polio survivors are receiving the best possible care is to raise awareness of post-polio conditions within the aged care sector, as aged care is often the only available support for those living with these conditions,” he says.
Polio Australia President Gillian Thomas OAM expresses similar concerns. “As a polio survivor and aged care resident, it is evident that aged care workers’ knowledge of post-polio conditions is currently insufficient to safely and optimally care for polio survivors. This is a remediable situation. Post-polio specific education is both available to and necessary in this sector.”
“Those who know little of these conditions lead the polio survivors entrusted to their care to be very susceptible to mis-management – it’s usually a mismatch of activity and ability expectations causing a worsening in symptoms and a heightened risk of falling,” Ms Thomas says.
Spinal Life Australia, a leading voice in the disability sector, is working in partnership with Polio Australia to raise awareness of post-polio conditions, to ensure polio survivors are getting the help they need. Spinal Life Australia is encouraging aged care facilities to take part in clinical workshops provided by Polio Australia, to improve the quality of care provided polio survivors.