A NURSING expert has warned going into hospital is dangerous for dementia patients describing them as meat grinders that chew up sufferers, saying staff can leave afflicted patients hungry, thirsty and in pain.


Professor June Andrews, director of the Dementia Services Development Centre at Stirling University, accuses staff of dosing confused patients with sedatives to keep them quiet and advises relatives to spend as much time as possible with their loved one on the wards rather than leave them at the "mercy of the system".

The internationally renowned expert, who is a nurse and former NHS manager, refers to receiving the wrong medicine as "a common hazard of being in hospital."

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Professor Andrews' startling comments are contained in a guide, published this week, designed to help families cope with the illness.

Tips include "guerilla" visiting tactics to get around strict visiting hours and ensuring the patient receives lots of cards so staff know the person is cared about.

"Patients who appear to have a large and interested family seem to get more attention," said Professor Andrews.

"I feel sure that some people will be offended by this book, but the people who work in hospitals and manage hospitals who really understand dementia will see that in fact it is asking families to do more. The book actually has quite a sophisticated understanding as to why hospitals fail people with dementia. It is because hospitals were not designed for dementia. They were designed for strokes and heart attacks and fractures. As time goes by, hospitals are becoming under more pressure and the extent to which they can manage dementia becomes less and less."

The book has been endorsed by the radio and television presenter John Humphrys - whose father suffered dementia - and Professor Andrews says that rather than painting a bleak picture of what it is like on the wards, it gives a realistic one.

According to Professor Andrews, in the wake of the financial crisis "this is as much as we can expect from hospitals."

In fact she describes now as "the good old days" for the NHS, as the size of the frail elderly population is increasing. It has been predicted that the number of people living with dementia in Scotland will increase 75 per cent by 2031 to more than 100,000.

Called Dementia: The One Stop Guide, the book says some hospitals have clever schemes for helping dementia patients avoid unnecessary hospital admissions and some use discrete symbols, such as butterflies, to identify people with the condition to NHS workers so they can treat them appropriately.

However, Professor Andrews also notes not all staff know how to deal with dementia properly.

She describes how someone who was coping well in the community can go downhill because of the hospital environment.

She says: "This same person who managed to be happy and live quietly at home, sleeping at night and entertaining themselves by day, will be kept awake by noise and light at night, and bored to death in the daytime, never even seeing daylight. After a few days of that they 'll become noisy and irritable and may be given medication to quieten them down.

"It is not unusual after this to have a fall or a fracture, leading to more surgery, and a long period in hospital during which all their skills leave them as they get undiagnosed depression and delirium, which at times is ignored by hospital staff and goes untreated, leading to an early death."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it was committed to improving hospital care for people with dementia.

He said: "We have a three year strategy to improve dementia care in hospitals, including a 10 point action plan to drive up standards. In partnership with Alzheimer Scotland we are funding an Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Nurse Consultant in all territorial NHS boards, and more than 500 dementia champions across Scotland to support healthcare staff who work with people with dementia.

"Healthcare Improvement Scotland's inspections of care for older people in acute hospitals include a specific focus on nutritional care and hydration. They focus on identifying areas of strength as well as areas for improvement, and we expect NHS Boards to use their recommendations to drive forward improvement and ensure a better quality of care for people with dementia in acute hospitals."