The deadly consequences of dementia in aged care homes

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Dementia is having a different affect on some aged care residents.

Coping with dementia is challenging enough for the sufferer and their loved ones, but this disease has been found to have even more disturbing and deadly consequences in aged care homes.

Melbourne researchers have discovered that elderly patients with either dementia or schizophrenia were responsible for the deaths of 28 of their fellow residents in Australian nursing homes between 2000 and 2013.

“Some people were classifying these as homicides but we don’t believe there is intent behind this,” said Professor Joseph Ibrahim from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and Monash University in a Sydney Morning Herald article.

“It’s typically two people with dementia getting involved in an argument or concerned about one invading another person’s space,” Ibrahim said.

“You have one person that pushes the other. The other person falls, breaks their hip or hits their head, and because they are in their eighties and frail, they don’t bounce back. They end up dying.”

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Melbourne researchers who examined coroners’ files in the largest international study of its kind, found that only two of the 28 deaths resulted in criminal charges, and in both incidents the accused died before the case got to court.

Falls as a result of the victim being punched or pushed accounted for close to 90 per cent of deaths in victims aged 75 or older, the research found.

And while 28 deaths nationally over a 14 year-period may not sound particularly alarming, Monash University researcher, Briony Murphy, who led the study, said “it is just really the tip of the iceberg of other incidents that occur on a daily basis and either don’t get reported or don’t result in a death.”

The Australian Law Reform Commission passed a recommendation for aged care providers to report any allegation of a serious incident to an independent body, but it seems that aged care providers are slow to adopt the practice.

Meanwhile, the Turnbull government is considering a recommendation to enact a serious incident response scheme for aged care, Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said.

Are you concerned about this aspect of aged care facilities? Do you think more should be done to protect elderly residents in care?