Australia

His mum 'lost her power' to dementia. The nursing home’s medication made it even worse

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Human Rights Watch has called for greater staffing and training in Australian nursing homes as well as an outright ban on the use of chemical restraints.

Monica spent her working life as an advocate for the elderly, working as a carer in aged care homes - but five years ago, her family saw she was beginning to suffer the symptoms of dementia.

Monica's family tried their best to care for her, but after her husband, Silvio was taken to hospital following a stroke, her son Edgard made the difficult decision to put his parents into aged care.

Edgard Proy and his mother Monica, who has dementia and was chemically restrained.

"We had no choice but to put them into an aged care facility,” he said.

It was the last thing as a family we wanted to do.

Monica's dementia made her wander away from her room and vocalise loudly and in response, her nursing home began to heavily medicate her to try and reduce her frustration, a process referred to as chemical restraint.

Edgard said the cocktail of drugs his mother was taking only made things worse.

“Even with her dementia she gives me these hugs and she laughs and giggles, but when I was hugging her when she was on all the medication I couldn't console her,” he said.

My mother had already lost her power with the dementia and then we are throwing into the mix medication that is taking away her capacity to deal with this dementia.

According to a new report from Human Rights Watch, cases like this are widespread across the aged care sector.

Australian director at Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson said academic research funded by the government shows a disturbing pattern.

“In some of those studies, a third of people in nursing homes are on sedatives, 32 per cent are on antipsychotic drugs, they're taking these drugs every day,” she said.

“While we documented this problem in 35 facilities we know that is just scratching the surface of this problem."
Hands of an Elderly man

The government introduced regulations to clamp down on the use of chemical restraints earlier this year.

But Human Rights Watch is now calling for the practice to be outlawed completely.

"We found that older people were being given drugs to control their behaviour for the convenience of staff, not for any medical purpose,” Bethany Brown, a HRW researcher on the report, said.

We want the Australian government to prohibit chemical restraint in aged care facilities and sanction facilities that engage in this practice. @hrw ⁦⁦⁦@_ADAAustralia⁩ ⁦@Bethany_L_Brownpic.twitter.com/Tyt6dt2z5V

— Elaine Pearson (@PearsonElaine) October 16, 2019

The report links the use of chemical restraints to a lack of staffing, and staff training in nursing homes.

Those issues have been under the microscope this week at the Royal Commission into Aged Care.

On Thursday, union representatives reiterated calls for mandatory staff-to-patient ratios to help prevent their workers from being assaulted on the job.

"It's a consequence of people being rushed, people are getting six minutes to get a resident out of bed, washed, in a chair in a lounge room, it's just madness," according to Paul Gilbert, acting national secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation.

'Staff are struggling' 

“The care staff were beautiful, they were, but they were struggling,” Edgard told SBS News.

“The people who were prescribing the medication are doing the best they can with the knowledge that they have.

"But if they’re not trained in looking after the elderly, specifically, people living with dementia, what hope do they have?"

It took Edgard almost two years to wean his mother off the medication she had been prescribed by her nursing home.

He also had to hire private carers to help look after her as she underwent the withdrawal symptoms.

Edgard Proy and his mother Monica, who has dementia and was chemically restrained.

Monica has now been medication-free for more than a year and lives in a new nursing home with her husband.

And while her dementia is worsening, Edgard believes that living without chemical restraint has brought the sparkle back to her eyes.

"Mum's emotions are heightened, and she's not giving up,” he said.

"Today, she is a different person, and when I hug her today, she is at peace."

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