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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 806

Senator PATTERSON (3.28 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family Services (Senator Crowley), to a question without notice asked by Senator Patterson this day, relating to specific aged care dementia facilities.

This is a timely question because it is National Alzheimer's Week from 4 to 10 September. Senator Crowley obviously had not been briefed in any way, did not understand the question I was asking and was bowled out. Dementia is a devastating disease and is not to be laughed about. Some people may have watched Mother and Son and found it very amusing. But I am facing a situation in my family at the moment where my mother is caring for my stepfather who has dementia. It is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week job.

  Dementia involves confusion and loss of memory, especially short-term memory. It is often accompanied with delusions, depression, agitation, sleeplessness, wandering, aggression and uninhibited, socially unacceptable behaviour. It means that the carer is constantly watching because the person may, for example, try to light an electric stove with a match. Dementia sufferers are constantly being monitored because they are likely to wander.

  As carers know, it is not like any other disease. Roberta Gripton from the Alzheimers Association (WA) described dementia as follows:

It has been called the living death. And this is really what happens. The person in later stages is there in body but their personality has gone. It is not the same person.

One of my very good friends from childhood is married to a man who is 52. He has full-blown onset dementia. When I call and ask for my friend by name, he says, `Yes, that's me'. He has no idea who he is. She has no facility into which to place him. She has him in an inappropriate facility for one day a week, she has him in a HACC program another day, and she locks him up for the other three days so that she can go to work and provide for her three children. That is the sort of situation we are facing. People as young as 46, 47 and 52 have Alzheimers type dementia. Then there is senile dementia which expresses itself in very similar ways.

  The government has consistently avoided the compelling need for funding dementia specific facilities. People with dementia cannot appropriately be placed in nursing homes. If they are fit, active and not so frail that they are bedbound, they wander, they interfere with other people's business and they can go into another resident's room and rummage through the drawers. We have to think about the rights of residents who do not have dementia but are in a nursing home because they are frail.

  Many doctors and people who work in nursing home facilities tell us that ambulant residents who have dementia have to be restrained either physically or with drugs. When they are restrained with drugs there is an increased likelihood that they will be incontinent and have falls and that therefore their dependency is increased. Those people end up on a higher dependency level and cost much more than they would cost in a dementia specific facility. Their quality of life is reduced, as is that of the people who live with them in the nursing home.

  We only have to go into a nursing home to see a mismatch between frail aged residents and those with dementia. We can see the strains that it places on the staff, on the residents who have dementia, and on the other residents who do not have dementia.

  Strathdon Lodge in Victoria has just closed. In the other place, Dr Wooldridge outlined two examples of residents in that institution. One of those persons came from a psychiatric centre. She had been in a foetal position for many years, had not worn underclothes, had taken no care of herself and had not spoken. She moved to Strathdon Lodge and three months later she was able to engage in some activities of daily living, she was speaking again, and she had a quality of life. Another person had been inappropriately placed in a nursing home.

  The minister did not know that Strathdon Lodge had closed. Senator Reid tells me that another one in Canberra has closed. I want to know what this government is going to do about funding dementia specific facilities.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.