‘Dementia patients drugged, unable to eat or speak’
QUEENSLAND'S elderly with dementia are routinely being drugged up at aged care facilities with antipsychotic drugs not approved for their condition.
A new report from Human Rights Watch released today lays bare the shocking, widespread procedures used to quieten dementia patients across Australia.
Many of the them were happy and talkative before being chemically restrained but they end up losing weight, become dehydrated, they can't swallow, eat or sit up and sleep their lives away.
Family members said they were intimidated by staff if they dared question the drug use.
The report Fading Away: How Aged Care Facilities in Australia Chemically Restrain Older People with Dementia, found that in addition to the physical, social, and emotional harm for older people restrained with these drugs, there was also an increased risk of death.
The report was based on interviews with family members, doctors, nurses, advocates and documents showing the use of medications as chemical restraint in 35 aged care facilities in three states in Australia.
"When older people are silenced by drugs rather than given person-centred support, it risks their health and insults their humanity," Bethany Brown, researcher on older people's human rights at Human Rights Watch and author of the report said.
"Older people with dementia need an understanding helping hand, not a pill," she said.
Dr Harry McConnell, a geriatrician and neuropsychiatrist with more than 30 years of experience working with people with dementia and other disabilities in Australia confirmed in the report the powerful negative impact he has seen from the use of chemical restraints on people with dementia.
The report author says the Australian government should prohibit this practice and introduce requirements for adequate staffing numbers and dementia training to support older people with dementia without chemical restraint and they must act urgently in advance of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Aged Care Quality and Safety's interim report, on October 31, 2019.
The Royal Commission heard testimony on chemical restraint in aged care during its hearings in Sydney in May.
In an attempt to address the issue, the government introduced a new regulation, the Quality of Care Amendment (Minimising the Use of Restraints) Principles 2019, which came into force in July.
But the regulation does not prohibit chemical restraint or set out any penalties for aged care facilities that engage in the practice.
A parliamentary committee is conducting an inquiry into this.
"The Australian government should prohibit chemical restraint and penalise aged care facilities it finds violating that prohibition" Ms Brown said.
One young Queensland woman told Human Rights Watch the shocking change in her grandmother when she was given drugs to restrain her in an aged care facility on the Gold Coast over 18 months in 2017 and 2018.
"The weight loss started when she went on the drugs. She became gaunt," she said.
In another case the report tells of an 88 year old man with mild dementia who had a major stroke.
Staff at a facility in Queensland put him on medication to control his behaviour in 2017, after which he slept excessively and had difficulty eating, swallowing, and sitting upright.
When his son, Mark, complained about the sedation the facility took him off the drugs and his father recovered significantly.