A former dementia educator is putting together a training program for police and emergency response crews across Australia to prevent further fatal incidents like those involving NSW Police and 95-year-old aged care resident, Clare Nowland.
Penny Bingham, now retired, studied a diploma in dementia care in Tasmania when her husband was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. She worked at a local aged care facility and then with Dementia Australia for three years before her husband’s condition worsened.
Hearing the news of Ms Nowland’s death last week, Penny was outraged at how the incident was handled and knew she had to do something to help.
“Everybody usually sits back – and I’ve done it, too – and says ‘somebody should do something’,” she said.
“With an increasing population and a dementia diagnosis every six minutes in Australia, we’re all going to encounter it in some way at some time so we need to know how to respond.”
Penny has many questions about how staff, first responders and police handled the situation with Ms Nowland and said it was clear the people involved lacked training.
“Agitated behaviour is an expression of an unmet need. If she was agitated to the point where she was causing the staff concern, why would they have not called a family member?” she asked.
“As a family member of somebody who had dementia, if there had been a problem, I wouldn’t have cared what hour of the day or night I was called. It’s an assumption that a family member would have been able to defuse it but none of it makes any sense.
To prevent any more fatal future incidents from occurring, Penny has teamed up with a colleague with a background in dementia training to produce a program that can be offered to all emergency response staff and attending police officers to better understand the nature of dementia.
The program will touch on the basics of the condition while focusing on how to communicate with a person with dementia and how people with dementia lack the capacity to reason or negotiate.
“It isn’t always the case, but if you recognise unusual behaviour it’s very likely the result of some sort of cognitive problem and it needs to be responded to sensitively and appropriately,” Penny explained.
“They are very sensitive to verbal and non-verbal cues and if they see tension, that’s just going to increase their agitation.”
Penny said it’s important when interacting with someone with dementia who is expressing aggression to ask what might be the causes they cannot articulate. They could be in pain, they could be constipated, they could have an infection such as a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), or their medication may have changed.
Penny is working hard and fast to have her program rolled out as soon as possible while the topic is fresh in everyone’s mind following Ms Nowland’s death.