The Gap For Older People With Behavioural Problems

Arcare lauriston

This week I was asked to assist two sisters to find accommodation for their 67 year old mother, Doreen.  It was one of the most heart wrenching experiences I have had as an Aged Care Placement Consultant for some time. Doreen had recently been diagnosed with dementia, although the sisters were aware she had been in gradual cognitive decline for some time.

One of the daughters, Rosie, and her 3 year old had moved from Queensland 5 months ago to live with her mother and be her carer.  When I went for the initial visit I found that Rosie and her child had been sleeping in the car in the driveway for the past 2 weeks because Doreen had been screaming at them, banging doors and talking to imaginary people every night.

Doreen was not eating or sleeping and was wandering. Rosie was getting calls from local shopkeepers worried about her mother, but she was unable to stop the behaviour and could no longer cope. So the daughters spoke with Doreen’s neurologists and it was decided to initially admit Doreen to a private hospital for a medication review.

I took Rosie and her sister Kate to visit 4 aged care homes that had dementia care.  They chose a home which they felt was the best fit; flexible and in a great location for friends and family to visit.  The plan was to admit Doreen there once her medication had been sorted at the hospital.

Just as they breathed a sigh of relief they got a call from the hospital saying they could not accommodate Doreen’s behavioural needs and suggested that she be admitted to a psycho geriatric hospital.  Despite frantic calls the sisters found there were no beds available for their mother in a pyscho geriatric hospital and Doreen’s condition was worsening.

There has always been a large gap in our system for older people living with dementia and exhibiting difficult behaviours or psychosis. Aged care homes are fearful of danger to current clients and there are very few psycho geriatric hospitals, leaving very few options for an ever increasing number of people suffering this way.

Having heard the desperation in Rosie’s voice when I called to check in on Doreen I decided there might be one more avenue I could try. Drawing on my many years of experience as an Aged Care Placement Consultant and my knowledge of the aged care system, I contacted the aged care facility they had selected and explained to the manager that the hospital medication review was not going to happen and the daughters’ current circumstances.  I asked her to consider admitting Doreen to the facility in the dementia support section and, if she became unmanageable, transfer her to an appropriate hospital.  This type of transfer is easier to arrange by a manager of an aged care facility than for family.

The great news is that management did not dismiss this out of hand and agreed to Doreen moving into the facility immediately.

The Leisure Seeker Film Opens Up a Moral Discussion on Dementia

It was good to read Phillipa Byer’s review of the film The Leisure Seeker on 12th July in the Sydney Morning Herald. She pulled no punches about her opinion of the ending and its message. The story is about a retired teacher who has dementia and his wife who has cancer. They embark on a journey in their motor home. Spoiler alert – the finale involves the wife giving her husband a drink that brings about his demise then she commits suicide. The husband had earlier said to his wife that when the time came for him to go to one of “those places” (meaning an aged care residential facility) she should equip him with a rifle and remind him how to use it (on himself).

Phillipa was furious at this ending and I can understand her emotion. I am an Aged Care Placement Consultant and help elderly people find suitable accommodation, this includes people living with dementia and I take a keen interest in aged care facilities that support those with dementia. Philippa volunteers at a dementia specific residential facility, has a relative with dementia and is a research associate at the Australian Catholic University’s Plunkett Centre for Ethics and is currently working on a dementia project.

She states “The belief that residential aged care facilities are so bad that killing or suicide are reasonable preferences is apathetic and alarming.”  She points out that there are surely alternative moral imperatives, such as advocating for more funding as a minimum. She also has issue with the wife administering the death juice but not informing the husband that’s what it is. Surely, he has the right to decide in that moment. She is concerned, that as people with dementia live amongst us, we can’t loosen the moral bonds of honesty with them just because it may be uncomfortable or difficult. A new village being developed in 2019 in Hobart reflects the philosophy that, after a full life making their own decisions, people with dementia can have a valid opinion on their day to day life. Koongee Village allows people with dementia to live, roam free and have all the facilities they need in a safe setting.

The butterfly model being introduced to many aged care facilities in Australia is a new culture of care for people living with dementia and focuses on emotional intelligence. People live in smaller homes, are not treated as patients and are involved in daily activities in the home and garden and also learn new skills. There are good news stories about people living with dementia and, as an Aged Care Placement Specialist, I’m pleased to share them.

Read Phillipa’s Review.