Susan Ryan was watching her father with dementia shuffling around his aged care home, constantly crying and unable to swallow.
Ryan’s father, Ray, had been placed on anti-psychotics as a chemical restraint to control his behaviour caused by the degenerative brain disease.
“He would say, ‘My mind is a hell to me’,” Ryan told Human Rights Watch.
But after coming off the sedatives, Ryan said the symptoms disappeared.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the federal government to ban the use of chemical restraints on older Australians with dementia.
In HRW’s report, families of aged care residents described the side effects suffered by their loved ones with dementia placed on chemical restraints.
These symptoms included sleeping excessively, not communicating and showing signs of significant weight loss and dehydration from being unable to swallow.
It details 35 aged care facilities in NSW, Queensland and Victoria “routinely” using sedatives to control residents’ behaviour.
In Australia, nearly 450,000 people have dementia and more than half of aged care residents have the disease.
Neither patients or their families were asked for informed consent on the use of the drugs, according to HRW.
On top of the ban on chemical restraints, the group is recommending mandatory training for aged care staff in dementia and alternatives to de-escalate unwanted behaviour.
The report also recommended higher minimum staffing levels as well as enforcement powers to protect the rights of older Australians.
HRW said the use of chemical restraints was linked to understaffing, a lack of awareness by staff to support people with dementia, and unclear legal restrictions on the use of chemical restraints in Australia.
The organisation also rang the alarm over the drugs used, which exposed residents to a range of risks, including an increased chance of heart failure, pneumonia, nervous system problems, higher blood pressure or diabetes.
Report author Bethany Brown said the use of the drugs risked residents’ health and insulted their humanity.
“Older people with dementia need an understanding helping hand, not a pill,” Brown said.
Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]