Imagine waking from deep sleep to see a stranger’s face staring right down at you

Imagine waking from deep sleep to see a stranger’s face staring right down at you. Then imagine that someone enters your private space many times a week and that you are 96 years old 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 regularly happens to many others. I cannot imagine any other situation – other than aged care - where such occurrences would be considered run-of-the-mill.

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.

An inquest is currently underway regarding the untimely death of a nursing home resident. It is alleged that he had been bashed and that another resident with a history of violence may have been responsible for his death. One can only imagine the trauma being experienced by the families of both residents and the concerns of other residents and their families as to whether they are protected from further violence.

There are more than 342,800 Australians living with dementia. Each week, more than 1,800 new cases are diagnosed. This is expected to grow to 7,400 new cases each week by 2050.   You might think then that it is imperative that those who run our residential facilities would find a compassionate way to care for people with dementia – one that also respects the care needs of other residents. It is an issue that is not going away any time soon!

The Federal Government axed the Dementia and Severe Behaviours Supplement soon after coming to government – citing a ten-fold blow out in expenditure.  While it may have been that providers were oversubscribing to this supplement, the care of frail older people can never be cheap.  It is certainly a paradox that while this support for dementia care has ceased, our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, recently participated in a ‘surf for dementia’ jaunt!

There are no easy solutions in relation to dementia care – especially managing those who wander constantly. The first thing is to have adequate, skilled staff on hand. Yet there is still no mandated staff/resident ratios for aged care. NSW, the one state that currently requires a registered nurse on site, is considering abandoning this requirement. And staffing cuts are still occurring throughout the system at a time when there has never been more high-care residents in our homes.

All residents of aged care homes need to be looked after with respect and compassion – regardless of their cognitive ability and disabilities. As the statistics quoted above show, many of us will find ourselves in that hard place one day – maybe even our surfing PM!