Reliance on psychotropic drugs to manage agitated dementia patients in aged cares home is inappropriate, a specialist doctor has told a Queensland inquiry.
Aged care homes are overusing drugs to sedate agitated dementia patients because it's cheaper than hiring therapists, a Queensland inquiry has been told.
The Queensland government is holding a year-long inquiry to gauge support for euthanasia laws and understand problems with aged and palliative care services across the state.
On Thursday, the inquiry heard of an over-reliance on drugs to control dementia patients living in aged care facilities, and that those drugs were exposing patients to an increased risk of stroke and heart problems.
"It is easy to give a psychotropic medication first, and then ask questions of things like leisure therapy, diversional therapy, as a secondary measure," Dr Chrys Pulle, the state president of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine, told the inquiry.
"Mainly because it is more costly to employ a leisure therapist or a diversional therapist, or give them some exercise, some supervision in that area. That is a worrying concern."
The inquiry heard of two studies that showed 80 per cent of aged care residents with dementia receive psychotropic drugs, even though as few as 10 per cent might benefit from them.
"That's a very worrying statistic," said Liberal National Party MP Mark McArdle, the deputy chair of the parliamentary committee hearing the inquiry.
"Are you implying that these drugs are given to dementia patients to keep them sedated and quiet?"
Dr Pulle replied: "I would agree that the use of psychotropic medications is inappropriate in the majority of circumstances. It is easier to prescribe an antipsychotic."
"So it's a quick fix?" Mr McArdle asked.
"Potentially so, but it has potential side effects, cardiac (problems), stroke," Dr Pulle said.
During the hearing Dr Pulle explained society's opposition to medically assisted dying, including the risk of involuntary euthanasia in patients with dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment.
He also warned the introduction of euthanasia laws could put pressure on older Australians who might consider themselves a burden to others.
"As a society we should be judged on our support of a sick, vulnerable and frail elderly," the practising geriatrician said.
"By succumbing to the push for voluntary assisted dying legislation are we abandoning the push for quality end-of-life care, and palliative care? And are we saying that there's no more we can offer, and that death is the only option?"
The inquiry also heard from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners on Monday, which says assisted dying is a matter for society to decide.
"This is a subject that should reflect the wider views of the community, rather than the particular views of medical practitioners," college chair Bruce Willett said.
"(But) it should not, in any way, diminish palliative care supports for patients. A lack of palliative care services should never be a reason to examine these sorts of procedures."
Both doctors identified major problems with existing palliative care options, saying specialist services were essentially non-existent outside major metropolitan areas where that function fell to GPs.
"If we're struggling to get adequate palliative care in the city, how will it be in regional and remote Queensland," Dr Pulle said.
They also said too many "futile" medical procedures were being carried out on patients with very poor prospects of living beyond a year, and that was a burden on both patients and the public purse.
The inquiry continues.