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.