We want people who live with dementia to be safe and secure. We worry about them leaving where they are and not being able to find their way back. They might fall and break bones. They might bump into things and get cuts and scrapes. They might get hit by a car or a bus. They might fall into a river and drown. Anything might happen.
The problem is, anything might happen to anyone at anytime, and, while we prefer autonomy for ourselves, we want safety for those we love. We want to protect the people we love who live with dementia from cuts and scrapes and suffering. So we constrain and restrain them, and we restrict them from doing things we think might cause them injury or harm. We lock them in places and we don’t let them out. When they respond as any “normal” person would, we pathologize their behaviour and sedate them with antipsychotic drugs.
Most human beings don’t like to be confined. We want to be able to move around. We are curious and adventuresome. We like to explore and investigate and discover. It’s in our genes. Why do people who live with dementia try to escape the chairs, rooms, houses, institutions and stigma we lock them into? Because it’s normal human behaviour.
People who live with dementia are just like people who don’t live with dementia: we want to go where we want, when we want. We want to do what we want, not what other people want us to do. If we are prevented from going where we want and doing what we want, we may get agitated, anxious or angry. It’s not rocket science. It’s more like child’s play. No one wants to live in a box, figuratively or literally. Painting a prison the colours of the rainbow doesn’t change the facts that it’s still a prison and that people don’t like to be locked in.
It’s normal human behaviour to try to open closed doors, leave confined spaces and explore our environment. It’s natural to want to be free. We need to find ways to help people with dementia do what we all do naturally, and to stop punishing them for being human. Sedation is another form of prison. The bars aren’t made of plastic, wood or metal, but they are just as real.
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