Up to 80 per cent of dementia patients in Australia’s aged-care facilities are receiving psychotropic medications, according to a new report by Alzheimer’s Australia.
The report, titled The use of Restraints and Psychotropic Medications in People with Dementia, suggests that such medications have serious side effects and low rates of effectiveness for people with dementia.
Dr Ellen Skladzien, the national policy manager at Alzheimer’s Australia and co-author of the report, told SBS the numbers were staggering.
“If you think that approximately 50 per cent of people in aged-care facilities have dementia and then up to 80 per cent of those people are receiving psychotropic medications, it’s quite a large proportion of the number of people in aged care,” she said.
She said that while the drugs could be useful in controlling patients, they should be used only when there was a “severe and complex risk of harm.”
“Our concern is that they are being used as a first line in a lot of cases,” she said.
But John Kelly, CEO Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), said in a statement today that all medications administered in aged care were done so on advice from medical professionals.
“All medications given in residential care are prescribed after proper examination of the resident by medical practitioners,” he said.
He noted that the needs of people in aged care were complex.
“People are entering residential aged care at older ages and with more complex health needs than was the case a generation ago.”
According to Dr Ellen Skladzien, part of the problem is that there is not enough awareness about different strategies for treating dementia patients.
“The underlying fact is that these behaviours that people experience are often caused by a number of things such as unmanaged pain or difficulty communicating, and if you can address some of those concerns or some of those difficulties, the need for medication goes away,” she said.
ACSA is now working toward reducing the use of sedatives in aged care as part of the RedUse (Reducing use of sedatives) project.
“This project is being rolled out nationally after a pilot in Tasmania proved that education, communication, conversations and medication reviews involving relevant health practitioners, staff and the family of the resident are important to reducing medication usage,” Professor Kelly said.
In a statement to SBS, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services said there were guidelines in place to assist aged-care facilities on this issue.
“Under the Residential Aged Care Accreditation Standards, facilities must demonstrate that medication is managed safely and correctly,” she said.
“The standards also provide significant guidance on the use of restraint in any form.
“Because this is such an important issue, the government supports and funds a range of activities that promote a person-centred approach to the management of the underlying causes and non-pharmacological strategies for people with dementia showing behavioural disturbances.”
A Senate Committee has been examining this issue and will this week release a report of its findings.
Read the full Alzheimer’s Australia report: