Training, more training and empathy – carer’s story

Linda’s mother, Gloria who has moderate dementia, experienced an extended stay of several weeks in hospital for rehabilitation and assessment. Linda found one episode particularly disturbing.

Linda’s mother, Gloria who has moderate dementia, experienced an extended stay of several weeks in hospital for rehabilitation and assessment. Linda found one episode particularly disturbing.

Issues/problems faced

In 2015, my mother, Gloria, who had been diagnosed with moderate dementia, spent several weeks in hospital for rehabilitation and assessment.

I saw nursing staff try to communicate with my mother in many ways. Most were extraordinary in their patience and skilful interactions with my mother and other patients who had dementia. However, I was concerned that some staff did not have specialist dementia training or dementia awareness, which I saw reflected in their interactions. For example, some tried to reason with my mother, which was usually fruitless and increased her agitation and confusion, or made her feel threatened.

I was particularly disturbed when a nurse’s aid said that if my mother didn’t stop her ‘bad behaviour’, she would be denied visits from the family. The behaviour in question was simply that my mother insisted on going home to the point that she was hostile. Along with the threat of being denied access to her family, my mother was given another dose of Risperidone (an antipsychotic medicine) to manage her behaviour. The memory of my very frightened mother, clutching her packed bag will haunt me forever.

Strategies that would have made a difference

Staff training on communicating with, and caring for, a person with dementia is very important. This training should to include strategies on how to respond appropriately and reduce a person’s distress before it escalates. Understanding a person’s background is also important. My mother, like many post-war migrants, had experienced traumatic events as a child growing up in war-torn Europe. These memories are alive and vivid in the present and her experience in the hospital brought them to the surface.

I wish I had the presence of mind at that time to question the nurses’ actions and had been a stronger advocate for my mother.