There’s a lot of things being written and shared in the news about seniors and the medications they are taking in long term care. It is hard to know what is true and what is not?
As I have mentioned in our story, three and a half years ago when my mom was first hospitalized, she was living the “dementia” story: fighting delirium, paranoid, hallucinating, strapped to an acute care bed and taking a collection of drugs I didn’t understand. We had no family doctor, no diagnoses and no hope.
As a partner in care, one of the areas where I have felt the most powerless and uniformed is surrounding my mother’s medication and to make things worse, I just have click on Google news to find statements like this from the Toronto Star:
“Ontario nursing homes are drugging helpless seniors at an alarming rate with powerful antipsychotic drugs, despite warnings that the medications can kill elderly patients suffering from dementia. A Star investigation has found that some long-term care homes, often struggling with staffing shortages, are routinely doling out these risky drugs to calm and “restrain” wandering, agitated and sometimes aggressive patients.”
If I had read these statements in the early days of mom’s hospital care, I would have believed it without question– in many ways, it was true. Medications were not explained to me and questions I raised about her slurred speech and stoned-out state were silenced with the answer: “You don’t want her to fall and break her hip do you?” I felt my hands were completely tied.
This is the condition in which my mom remained for three months until finally we were able to get her a psycho-geriatric assessment by Providence Care. Within one month, mom’s medication was corrected, acute care issues were addressed and my mother was a completely different person. She was walking around unrestrained, (not the same woman she was before the dementia) but alert, funny, calm, more rationale. The change was so drastic, we honestly felt like she’d been brought back to life.
Today, she lives in a long term care home, under the care of a knowledgeable doctor and is still receiving the support Providence Care and I have come to appreciate the place that the proper medications – including antipsychotic – play in my mother’s life.
The newspaper’s inflammatory language and the implication that seniors in long term care homes get doped up every time they get a little cranky, don’t exactly paint the whole picture.
What the general public doesn’t know is how ugly an episode of delirium and hallucination for a person who lives with dementia can be.
(I certainly had no idea.)
During some of my mother’s darkest moments while in long term care, she lived in a 24-7 state of panic and terror that everyone was trying to kill her. She could not be calmed, wouldn’t eat, drink or sleep and was suspicious of everyone and everything. She was desperately and successfully trying to escape outside in the middle of the winter. Not only was she harming herself but was striking out in self defense to anyone who got near her. The last thing on my mind was the convenience of the long term care home or even the other residents, it was to bring peace back to Mom.
Part of what brought her back and keeps Mom from staying like this (I believe) – is the proper distribution of medications that include anti-psychotic drugs – Through the careful administration of medications and behavioural support techniques, most days, Mom is calm, active and alert.
I am not naïve to think medications are never misused or mistakes never happen, but the truth, I believe… lives somewhere in the middle.
So, what would help us as family members and care partners? –While I realize it isn’t possible for our parents/spouses to be actively involved in their treatment, We need to be. This would not only prepare us when others come to us with misinformation, but it would also give us the choice to be involved in our own care choices.
I believe if we knew more, there’d be less exaggerated news reports and hysteria and the care we’d receive would be truly person and family centered.