Wake in fright

Imagine waking from deep sleep to see a strange, expressionless face staring right down at you. Then imagine that this happens many times a week and that you are aged 96 with limited mobility.

This is life for a friend of mine who lives in a high-care residential facility. It also happened to my mother in similar circumstances – and to many others.

I cannot imagine any other situation – other than aged care - where such occurrences would be considered acceptable.

The hard fact is that many owners/managers of aged-care homes are abrogating their duty of care by not managing the mix of residents in a manner whereby all receive quality care and protection.

Thus, residents with dementia frequently wander into the rooms of others, disturbing rest, taking possessions that are not theirs and, in an instance that I can clearly recall, urinating in the waste basket.

Alzheimer’s disease, along with other forms of dementia, is a terrible affliction. It is what most of us dread might happen to us. And it is what will happen - to quite a few of us at least! Alzheimer’s Australia tells us that there are 280,000 Australians with dementia. Each week, 1600 new cases are diagnosed. By 2050 more than 1 million Australians will be living with various forms of the disease.

You might think then that managers of residential facilities would find a compassionate way to care for people with dementia – one that also respects the care needs and of other residents.

Some aged-care providers, such as Hammond Care, run dementia specific hostels and high-care units where residents live in small home-like cottages within those larger units.

And there are others who find positive and practical ways to care for those who have dementia. Take for example Dr John Zeisel, author of 'I'm Still Here' with his glass half full approach.

Yet too often everyone is left to just muddle along together. Nothing wrong with everyone living side by side as long as all residents receive the care and protection they need. But to have your small, private living space intruded many times a day by a wandering resident with advanced dementia should not considered acceptable.

There are no easy solutions in relation to caring for residents with dementia – especially those who wander constantly. Yet better ways of managing a diverse population within an aged-care home must be found and should not be beyond our capability.

Where are the design architects who might create buildings and spaces that support the needs of all residents?

Where are the innovative health professionals who put ideas - like those proposed by Dr Zeisel - into practice?

And where are the decent staff/resident ratios?

There is a disturbing case currently being reported in the Canberra press. A suspicious death has occurred in the dementia wing of a nursing home. One can only imagine the trauma being experienced by the families of residents at this home.

There are so many reasons to support the current Fight Dementia Campaign initiated by Alzheimer's Australia. And many more to find better ways to care for those who already are experiencing this disease and to protect those who are sharing residential facilities with them.