Sins of Commission, Sins of Omission
This post by Dr. Al Power originally ran on ChangingAging.org on June 17, 2015.
Last week, I had the opportunity to fire off two critical emails. The first was a rather pointed response to an article in the Australia Financial News. Thanks to my Australian friend Mick Carmody, I was able to see a copy and to help ensure that it would get out to the world.
Quite simply, it is the most irresponsible, ill-informed, and inflammatory bit of writing I have ever seen on the topic of dementia. For a bit of background, the Australia government is considering sending teams of consultants to care homes around the country to aid the staffs in better understanding and caring for people living with dementia whose needs are not readily understood and whose distress may be significant. This is meant to help address the chronic shortage of geriatric specialists and provide more on-site training and support.
In AFR, writer Christopher Jay used this as an opportunity to portray a burgeoning crisis of “Dementia Troublemakers”:
“…one corollary of the inexorable progression of baby boomers into the advanced age groups of the over 70s and over 80s—a surge of feral geriatrics with severe and often violent behaviour problems stemming from dementia.” (My emphasis)
Jay went on to describe those individuals as “a menace to themselves and other retirement home inmates—mad, bad and dangerous to know.” The article is laced with further histrionic thoughts about the increasing dangers that such violent behaviors will pose for society. Jay manages to insult not only people living with dementia, but older people in general and the care homes themselves (“inmates”??).
So I criticized his portrayal of this situation, his framing the response teams as little less than SWAT teams, and his overall ignorance of the benefits of transformational approaches to support and care. Among my comments:
“If anyone from your staff had attended the excellent Alzheimer’s Disease International conference in Perth last April you would have seen an intelligent discourse on the best ways to support people living with changing cognition, and you would have met over 100 attendees living with the diagnosis and speaking eloquently about what they need in order to succeed.
“I have worked with care homes that use little or no antipsychotic medication and help each person to live to best of his or her ability, without exhibiting the apocalyptic behaviour that Mr. Jay fears will become rampant.
“I would suggest that your editors and Mr. Jay educate yourselves about the condition, and I sincerely hope Mr. Jay never has to grow old in a community that views elders the way he does.”