by: Michael Jolliffe
A controversial new scheme to electronically tag the elderly has been blasted by critics as a ‘gimmick’ and as an excuse for negligence, by civil liberties campaigners. The plan, which would involve tracking dementia patients by utilising the same high-powered satellite technology used to control criminal offenders, has received widespread criticism, despite the backing of a dementia care charity, Alzheimer’s Society.
The idea was first introduced by British science minister Malcolm Wickes who argued that the use of tags, both at home and in residential care, would prevent the worry caused to loved ones of elderly family members prone to wandering. The National Pensioners Convention described the proposal as ‘shocking’ and ‘inhumane’.
This most recent debate follows a string of high profile care home abuse reports, both in Britain and the US. In early December 2007, the Wall Street Journal dedicated a front page to a story on the overmedication of nursing home residents in which it exposed the use of antipsychotic medication to control distressed residents.
Reports included an 84-year-old Alzheimer’s disease patient at the Orchard Manor nursing home in Medina, New York who, after repeatedly tapping her foot nervously, was given the powerful anti-schizophrenia drugs Haldol and Seroquel. Another agitated resident at a nursing home in Massapequa was given 90 doses of injectable Haldol, despite staff being able to calm her with ice cream and soft toys. Dr. Jeffrey Nichols, vice president for medical services at the Cabrini Eldercare Consortium in New York, described the use of such drugs as being “like hitting a TV on the side”.
Similarly, early in 2007 British liberal Member of Parliament Paul Burstow attempted to introduce a Human Rights bill into the House which, he hoped, would protect the elderly from negligent care. The move came in response to an inquiry that had found residents forced to live on a diet of Angel Delight and beans on toast.
“One in 10 care home residents lose up to 5% of their body weight within a month of being admitted to the home and 10% of their body weight within six months”, Mr. Burstow told a Commons Select Committee, before expressing his horror at the “culture of convenience… maltreatment and neglect” that included the misuse of drugs to make managing the elderly easier.
Most recently and most damningly, a report by the British Commission for Social Care Inspection discovered a number of horrifying examples of abuse, including the use of ‘cocoon’ sheets to tie elderly residents into beds, dementia sufferers being dragged around by the hair and incontinent patients being kept from using a lavatory despite being wet and soiled.
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, Dr. Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics expressed concern that the new tagging scheme would be used as a way of “making life easier for carers” rather than as a way of making life safer or more pleasant for those in need of care. With the nursing home industry under pressure from an exponentially increasing elderly population, campaigners have called for the government to stop investigating such methods, described as “substitutes for proper resources”. Instead, they argue, it must look to overturn the culture of neglect, and protect the rights and dignity of its citizens.
About the author
Michael Jolliffe is a health writer, and an expert on nutritional and environmental influences on health and disease.
He is a member of the British Association for Nutritional Therapy, International Society for Orthomolecular Medicine and the Life Extension Foundation.
To make contact, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.healthrevolutions.com.