Starvation fears for dementia patients

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Dementia sufferers are being left to starve in NHS hospitals and care homes by staff who do not understand their condition, campaigners have warned.

The Alzheimer's Disease Society has compiled a dossier of complaints from people who have watched patients waste away because they are unable to feed themselves.

The concerns follow the Hungry in Hospital report compiled by the national hospitals watchdog, the Association of Community Health Councils, and first reported by The Independent.

The report, out earlier this month, showed that many patients were going without food in hospital. Relatives claimed that some people had starved to death.

The ADS is concerned for the welfare of patients with dementia who are awaiting treatment for physical ailments on wards where staff are not used to Alzheimer's Disease.

Harry Cayton, director of the society, said: "They are not being looked after by specialist nurses but by people with no specific training in dealing with dementia."

The society is in talks with the Royal College of Physicians to improve training of hospital staff in helping patients with dementia. It would also like small sections of general wards to be reserved for dementia patients and specialist staff..

Mr Cayton said: "Patients are being expected to feed themselves when they are not even aware that they have been given a meal."

The ADS has compiled a dossier of cases from around the country of dementia patients who have been allowed to go without food. It is compiling a report on the scale of the problem nationally.

Among those who have complained is Ruth Finch, a health professional from Essex, who said her aunt had been left to go without food and drink in a hospital in Chelmsford, in November. Ms Finch was warned by a hospital orderly that her aunt was not being fed. She said: "When I asked the nurses I was told variously that she could feed herself, that it wasn't in the nursing plan for her to be fed and that they were too busy."

On one occasion, Ms Finch was told that although her aunt had declined a main course she had "enjoyed" a pudding.

"As I approached the bedside I could clearly see the square of sponge pudding in one piece on the floor at her feet," she said. "Frequently food was left out of reach, some in cellophane wraps that defeated people or people were left asleep. Trays were collected without notice as to what had been eaten."

Beverley Kite, 59, of Camden, north London, said she had to sit and feed her mother in a north London hospital. Her mother, Ada Wheeler, 89, has dementia but had been admitted to the hospital for a hip replacement.

Ms Kite said that her mother and other patients with dementia had been left without food by auxiliary staff who had no understanding of the condition. She said: "People with dementia will die before they ever complain that they are not being fed. The auxiliary staff are not trained. They will go up to someone with dementia and ask them if they are hungry. When they get no answer they take the food away."

Maureen Sebastinelli, from North Shields, said hospital staff had little understanding of patients with dementia, such as her husband Victor.

The retired forklift truck driver was admitted to a surgical ward after breaking a thigh bone. His meals were often taken away still wrapped in the cling-film which he could not remove. Mrs Sebastinelli said: "The nurses are not up on dementia people. They need to be watched every minute, it is very, very hard."