Doctor: Wrong to place elderly with mentally ill

“Dis­con­cert­ing and dis­turb­ing.”

The de­scrip­tion was giv­en yes­ter­day by geron­tol­o­gist Dr Jen­nifer Rouse fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery on Wednes­day of 69 peo­ple who were locked in cages at the Arou­ca-based Trans­formed Life Min­istries Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre (TLM) dur­ing a po­lice raid.


Of the 69 res­cued, 65 were men and four women. Some were hand­cuffed. They were all be­tween the ages of 19 and 70 years old.

Rouse said those be­tween the ages of 60 to 70 who were in­sti­tu­tion­alised at TLM could have been suf­fer­ing from Alzheimers or de­men­tia and should not have been placed among in­di­vid­u­als who had men­tal dis­or­ders or be­hav­iour­al is­sues.

In ad­di­tion, she said you can­not lump men­tal­ly ill, un­con­trol­lable, bipo­lar or vi­o­lent in­di­vid­u­als, home­less peo­ple or some­one suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia or Alzheimers in the same fa­cil­i­ty, as each per­son would re­quire dif­fer­ent care, at­ten­tion and treat­ment.

“It’s not a one size fits all. They should not have been mixed in the same fa­cil­i­ty with per­sons who are men­tal­ly ill or those who are schiz­o­phrenic.”

Rouse said it was dis­con­cert­ing and dis­turb­ing to look at the caged peo­ple.

“At times, it felt cru­el and in­hu­mane be­cause when you reach a stage where you have to see your­self in the least of us. It was hor­rif­ic to wit­ness be­cause you know it is a hu­man be­ing in there (cages). You know where the dis­tur­bance comes from per­sons get­ting the op­tic of see­ing how sus­pect­ed men­tal­ly ill are treat­ed. That is what res­onat­ed more.”

Equal­ly wor­ry­ing, Rouse said was that the cages that were pad­locked from the out­side.

“It meant that those who were locked in could not get out. That was dis­turb­ing,” she said.

Some­times, Rouse said cir­cum­stances change overnight for fam­i­lies and they are forced to make de­ci­sions that are not ide­al for oth­ers who are close and dear to them.

Rouse drew ref­er­ence to a case she dealt with while serv­ing as di­rec­tor of the Di­vi­sion of Age­ing in­volv­ing a daugh­ter and moth­er.

The daugh­ter, the sole bread­win­ner worked for min­i­mum wage and could not af­ford a care­giv­er for her moth­er who had mem­o­ry laps­es.

“So she chained her moth­er to a chair in­side the house to keep her from wan­der­ing on the streets and get­ting in­to trou­ble. It was sad. But the daugh­ter felt it was the best thing to do.”

Rouse re­called she had ad­vo­cat­ed for geri­atric hos­pi­tals and pal­lia­tive care for the age­ing which nev­er ma­te­ri­alised.

The is­sue of men­tal health, Rouse said was still a taboo sub­ject to­day in T&T.

“Quite a num­ber of fam­i­lies who have mem­bers that are men­tal­ly ill or chal­lenged do not like to speak about it. They hide them. So that means there is a kind of shame and fail­ure.”

Some mem­bers of so­ci­ety, Rouse said treat se­nior cit­i­zens suf­fer­ing from Alzheimers and de­men­tia as men­tal dis­or­ders when it is in an old peo­ple ill­ness.

Rouse said there was no train­ing for geri­atric ser­vices and geron­tol­ogy for our age­ing pop­u­la­tion.

“There are de­fi­cien­cies in the sys­tem.”

She said the dras­tic change in the fam­i­ly struc­ture has had a re­gres­sive im­pact on so­cial care in our coun­try.

Long ago, she said the ex­tend­ed fam­i­ly used to have built-in sup­port at home and with­in the com­mu­ni­ty to look af­ter the el­der­ly.

The nu­clear fam­i­ly puts the el­der­ly in in­sti­tu­tions.

“Those in­sti­tu­tions the el­der­ly are placed in do not have prop­er fa­cil­i­ties, staff and re­quire train­ing. They try to do a ser­vice but it is not reg­u­lat­ed by a reg­u­la­to­ry body.”

Rouse said NGOs that pro­vide re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices are not held to ac­count nor do they face jail, fines, shut­downs or are mon­i­tored by reg­u­la­to­ry bod­ies which need­ed to change with leg­is­la­tion.


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