by Anthony Chicotel, CANHR Staff Attorney
Saturday’s New York Times featured a front page story about new care methods for elderly people with dementia. It turns out that treating people with dementia as adults capable of feelings, preferences, and tastes can reduce their behavioral problems and increase their quality of life. Shocker!
The article focused on Beatitudes, a nursing home in Phoenix that has used creative, non-invasive methods for preventing wandering, increasing resident activity, and focusing on the individual strengths of each resident. One method allows residents to eat what they want, including chocolate, and to even occasionally have an alcoholic beverage, e.g. allowing residents to be adults. In my favorite line from the article, Beatitudes “eliminated anything potentially considered restraining,” including antipsychotic drugs.
I applaud Beatitudes and other long-term care facilities like those owned by Ecumen in Minnesota for reducing the drugging and increasing resident-centered care. They prove that aside from all of the legal issues it entails, using drugs as the first line of treatment for dementia is bad clinical practice.
Yet what I find frustrating is that such a commonsense approach is front page news in the New York Times. I recently came across a 1985 article talking about a “new” basis for care involving increased resident activities, tailored to their specific preferences and life experience, and honoring each resident’s dignity. Twenty-six years later, the treatment of choice at many long-term care facilities remains mind-numbing psychotropic drugs. Increased clinical evidence demonstrates that chocolate, along with the individualized attention it connotes, is much more effective.