National

Calls to ban aged care chemical restraints

By AAP Newswire

When Karen Kruse's mother got dementia, she checked her into a Gold Coast facility in 2013 believing the "vibrant" matriarch was in good hands.

But after returning from a holiday, she found her mum reduced to a "bag of bones", struggling to move because of the anti-psychotics she'd been placed on by staff at the facility.

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 released on Wednesday, families of aged care residents describe the horrible side effects suffered by their loved ones with dementia placed on chemical restraints.

These symptoms include sleeping excessively, not communicating and showing signs of significant weight loss and dehydration from being unable to swallow.

Ms Kruse said the government needed to act now as she'd felt fobbed off by local regulators.

"It was an eye opener," she said.

Ultimately her mother died in aged care in 2016 and Ms Kruse said she regretted ever sending her to the facility which has since shut down.

HRW's Australian director Elaine Pearson said she believed aged care providers were pressuring the government not to act.

"This is a human rights violation," she said.

HRW details 35 aged care facilities in NSW, Queensland and Victoria "routinely" using sedatives to control residents.

In Australia, nearly 450,000 people have dementia and more than half of aged care residents have the disease.

Neither patients nor their families were asked for informed consent on the use of the drugs, according to HRW.

On top of the ban of chemical restraints, the group is recommending mandatory training for aged care staff in dementia and alternatives to de-escalate unwanted behaviour.

This would mean "person-centred care" that fostered relationships with patients.

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 and even higher blood pressure or diabetes.

Report author Bethany Brown said the use of the drugs was done to convenience staff, not for medical reasons

"What we've seen only scratches the surface," she said.