It’s been happening in the USA for quite some time, but we never thought we’d see tasers (stun guns) used in the UK on people with dementia. Until now. Read what happened in a care home in the West Midlands last week and tell us what you think
David, 73, has Alzheimer’s and lives in a care home. When he became ‘aggressive’ during lunch, staff phoned his wife who offered to come and help calm him down. ‘This often happens when he’s feeling unwell or frustrated as he can’t process his emotions,’ she said later.
Staff also called an ambulance who – unbeknown to her – had also requested police back up.
When she arrived at the nursing home she found police walking in. ‘I had no idea they were there for my husband,’ she recalls. ‘They approached David and asked him three times to take his hands out of his pockets. Eventually he did, and produced a butter knife.’
A policeman then fired a taser at David. Fortunately, the gun failed to deploy the 50,000 volt shot that could have killed him. But he still fell to the floor, banged his head and had to be taken to hospital.
Police said later that they’d used the gun because David had ‘lunged’ at them and they needed to restrain him. It also turned out that the officer responsible hadn’t been told David had dementia…
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this incident, it certainly seems that an astounding lack of communication between professionals, and a limited understanding of dementia, led to a very distressing scene, and to a vulnerable elderly man being admitted to hospital.
“It was the most heart-breaking thing I’ve ever seen,’ his wife recalls. ‘I can still see the pain etched on his face.’
We hope the reason this story appeared in several national newspapers last week was because incidents like this remain relatively rare in the UK. It’s a different story in the USA however, where tasers are used far more frequently. For example, a few months ago a 91-year old man with Alzheimer’s was tasered by police in Kansas after refusing to go with them to see a doctor. He died two months later with a weakened heart.
Of course, it’s easy to blame police for being too heavy handed. More dementia training certainly wouldn’t go amiss, particularly for officers responding to emergency call outs. After all, if police understood how best to manage aggressive behaviour, they might be less likely to respond with force.
But surely care home staff need better training too? Police records reveal that many UK police forces are dealing with an increasing number of call-outs from care homes who simply can’t cope with their dementia residents. If staff were more skilled they would be able to deal with many aggressive outbursts in a calmer and more measured manner, without having to call the police, or relying on relatives to rush in and help.