Clare's story by Wendy G
“Drop the knife!” the police officer ordered.
She didn’t. She continued to advance, slowly, towards the two officers, holding a serrated steak knife.
Apparently, "negotiations failed". One of the police officers tasered her, and she fell to the ground, striking her head. They called an ambulance and sent her to hospital, where she was cared for well. She’d fractured her skull and suffered a brain bleed. A week later she died. Her family, her community, the wider community, and all who hear of her situation are outraged. Why?
These officers were simply ensuring community safety. Or were they?
This lady was a ninety-five-year-old great-grand-mother, who lived in a supported Aged Care facility. The incident occurred at 4:30 in the morning, when most of the residents were sleeping. The lady was in and out of dementia, sometimes lucid, at other times not.
She weighed just 43 kilograms and walked with a walking frame. Were they really that frightened of her, with her “weapon”? Was there no gentle way to disarm her? Did anyone take sufficient time to talk with her in a non-threatening manner? Could not someone have simply walked up behind her, and loosened her grip on the knife?
All her life she had been an upright member of the community and her church, and she had always cared for others, including the weak and vulnerable. What a sad and terrible way for her to die.
Her family and friends are rightfully very distressed at her ignominious death – loved ones surrounded her bedside and offered their loving support and prayers from the time of the incident. She was said to have died “peacefully”.
Staff at the facility are being supported with trauma counsellors.
It should be an ongoing part of staff training in such facilities to learn how to handle elderly people with dementia with wisdom and compassion. All staff should be prepared for the possibility of being faced with a confronting situation.
It should also be a compulsory part of police training to study and practise methods of helping those with dementia, other mental illness, or disability without the need to resort to a totally irrational and abusive use of power. Perhaps the screening process for entry into the police service needs to be scrutinised as well.
We need to do better. May there be radical changes in the way people are trained to support and care for the elderly.
May her death not be in vain.
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