In Australia, staff at aged care facilities are giving older people with dementia drugs to control their behavior where the drugs were not required to treat medical symptoms, a practice known as chemical restraint. Restraining older people with drugs has grave consequences, increasing risks of stroke, pneumonia, and even death. Relatives of older people subjected to this practice described a dramatic deterioration: formerly energetic, talkative people stopped walking, eating, and, in some cases, became unable to speak, overcome by the sedative effects of the drugs. Older people and their families face obstacles to recognizing and complaining about chemical restraint, and can face threats and intimidation from aged care facilities when challenging the practice. Recent changes to restraint policies in aged care do not go far enough and leave older people in aged care in Australia dependent on the good faith of an aged care system that is not equipped to meet their needs.

Monica has dementia and lives with her husband in a facility near Melbourne. Her son realized she was being given a cocktail of drugs when he asked to see her charts. After extensive negotiation, Monica’s doctor and facility staff agreed to wean her off the drugs. Monica went from being hunched and unbalanced to being able to sit, eat, greet people, and dance when her grandson visits and sings.