20 Aug 2018

Dementia sufferers in care lack legal safeguards - report

12:50 pm on 20 August 2018

The Human Rights Commission wants law changes to protect the thousands of dementia patients locked up without their consent.

Senior woman in wheelchair.

The Commission said it was important the rights of dementia patients were respected as much as possible. Photo: 123rf

About 4000 elderly New Zealanders live in secure dementia units and another 1000 in residential psychogeriatric facilities.

Read the full report here.

The report - titled 'This Is Not My Home' - contains essays from lawyers, doctors and a district court judge.

Large numbers of people are deprived of their liberty without clear authority, the report says.

Sometimes decisions about where people should live appear to have been made by clinicians anxious to clear a hospital bed, while families which have legal authority over people with dementia often don't fully understand what they're supposed to do.

"Some will be without family. This population is highly vulnerable, and they are not infrequently the subject of abuse, sometimes from their family members and others close to them."

Residents with dementia usually do not have the capacity to make decisions about where they want to live, or make a formal complaint or seek review of their situation, the report said.

"People can be transferred into private secure care facilities or across DHB borders without adequate clinical consideration or investigation of capacity."

Acting Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said not much was known about what it was like for the patients who are forced to live somewhere they did not want to be.

She said it was important their rights and wishes were respected as much as possible.

The report's editors, Dr Mark Fisher and the commission's chief legal advisor, Janet Anderson-Bidois, said law changes overseas "highlight that our legislation is now out of date and no longer fit for purpose".

They called for a formal Law Commission review, and for the clinical workforce to have the education and training needed to address the issues.

The editors suggested legal safeguards should be strenghtened with a new "district-inspector type" role in the legal system and access to a specialised tribunal or equivalent, such as the UK's Court of Protection.

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