Woman, 71, died of thirst because carer couldn't spell 'Alzheimer's'

Health Editor,Jeremy Laurance
Friday 20 December 2013 03:29
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A woman died of thirst in an old people's home after the deputy manager failed to record that she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease because she could not spell it.

A pathologist told an inquest into the death of Edith Pyett, 71, that it was the worst case of dehydration she had seen. Mrs Pyett had been in the Belmont Care Centre in Eastbourne for a week. Annette Ducille-Horton, the home's deputy manager, admitted failing to enter Mrs Pyett's Alzheimer's disease – which left her unable to eat or drink without assistance – in her care plan. She told the jury at the inquest in Eastbourne: "The reason I did not put Alzheimer's in the care plan was because I couldn't spell it. I was going to do it later but I didn't. I had not come across it before. I thought it was Old Timers' disease."

The omission meant staff did not realise the severity of Mrs Pyett's problems or understand her needs. She was not assigned a named carer and, despite the concerns of several care assistants that she was not drinking, a fluid monitoring chart to record what she drank was not set up for her, as it was for others.

James Pyett, 77, a retired hospital porter, had cared for his wife full-time since she developed the disease in 1995 but had placed her in the home while he visited his daughter in Surrey for a short break.

When he returned after a week he told the jury he was shocked at the state she was in. "I hardly recognised her. She was unkempt. Her head and eyes were rolling all over the place. I thought she was very ill," he said.

He gave her juice, which she "gulped down", and although staff knew she was incontinent and she was wearing an incontinence pad he found her trousers were saturated and her buttocks were "red-raw".

Her condition deteriorated and she was admitted to hospital, where she died of renal failure on 7 March this year.

Mr Pyett said he had told staff at the home when his wife was admitted that she could not give herself food or drink, although she had a good appetite and liked to drink. "I spent an hour telling staff her needs. She liked a cup of tea but she could not indicate that she was thirsty. I told them she needed help with her food and drink."

The care assistant Caroline Carpenter said there was no record of her having Alzheimer's or dementia. She said: "There was nothing in Mrs Pyett's notes to explain her constant smiling. I looked in there to check on general health information but there was nothing to suggest she suffered from dementia."

Dr Jane Mercer, who performed the post-mortem examination, said Mrs Pyett's kidneys had failed due to dehydration. "It was extremely severe. I have not seen worse results."

The jury returned a verdict of death from dehydration, aggravated by neglect.

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