Shock report finds Scots dementia sufferers secretly drugged

OLD folk with dementia are being secretly drugged in Scots care homes to make them easier to control. Staff are slipping sedatives into frail residents’ food or drinks.

Watchdogs who made surprise visits to 30 homes in Scotland found that nine of them were drugging some of their residents in secret, probably so staff could manage them more easily.

The inspectors also learned that HALF the pensioners in the homes never got the chance to go outside.

Not one of the homes had proper systems to keep track of the drugs they were giving their old folk.

And when the investigators looked at the “individual care plans” of 182 residents, they were shocked to discover that only 24 per cent of them contained a proper history of the patient’s life.

Knowing the history of the person being treated is a vital tool for dealing with dementia. But one pensioner’s notes amounted to four words: “Likes cats, likes milk”.

The grim findings were revealed yesterday in a major report titled Remember I’m Still Me.

The experts behind the study accused homes of taking a”one size fits all” approach to the people they looked after. And ministers vowed to use the findings to radically improve the care of Scotland’s 67,000 dementia sufferers.

The inspectors visited the 30 homes between August 2008 and March this year and spoke to 1335 residents.

They found that three quarters of the old folk were being given “psychoactive” drugs to control their behaviour, treat depression or help with sleep.

Many of the residents had been on the drugs for long periods without proper reviews of the medication they were taking.

Twenty residents, in nine of the care homes, were being drugged secretly in food or drink, even though staff did not have enough knowledge to give drugs legally or safely in such a way.

People with dementia should be checked every year by a GP but “very few” residents were offered this service.

And the inspectors found “some evidence”that doctors were prescribing drugs for patients without even seeing them.

The report said half of the residents in the homes were cooped up indoors 24 hours a day.

Very few were given the chance to stimulate their minds by keeping active or enjoying hobbies.

Dr Donald Lyons, director of the Mental Welfare Commission, said some homes had forgotten that old folk with dementia were still people.

He added: “Care homes provide a ‘one size fits all’ service, with care plans that pay little attention to the life the person has lived.”

Dr Lyons said carers who did not understand their patients were far less likely to be able to manage their behaviour without using drugs.

And he insisted: “Where drugs are used, it is vital that this is done for residents’ benefit in a way that respects their rights under the law.”

Susan Brimelow, of the Care Commission, said the inspectors had found some “heartening examples” of good care. But she added: “Overall quality needs to improve significantly.

“There is some uncomfortable reading in this report, but we must highlight what needs to change if we are to get improvement.”

The Care Commission pinpointed 78 areas where homes must improve and made 235 recommendations for improvement.

Public health minister Shona Robison vowed to accept them all.

Robison admitted the findings were “deeply shocking” and “a big wake-up call”. And she said that while there were many good care homes, others had “serious shortcomings”.

The minister went on: “I certainly wouldn’t want that for myself. I wouldn’t want it for anyone in my family and I wouldn’t want if for anyone else.”

The Scottish government will publish their strategy for dementia by the end of the year. The inspectors will return to the 30 homes over the next 12 months to see if they are improving their care.

Henry Simmons, chief executive of Alzheimer Scotland, slammed homes for secretly drugging their residents.

He said: “Drugs are often wrongly used to control people’s behaviour and have extremely harmful side-effects.”

Ian Macmaster, of Scottish Care, who represent home owners, welcomed the report and said it “demonstrates where areas of best practice are not being met”.

He said drugs would only be put in patients’ drinks on doctors’ orders and insisted: “It is not, under any circumstances, given to subdue them.”

Macmaster said home owners were “working under tight constraints” because Westminster did not give Scotland enough money for social care.

And he added that while home owners would love to take patients outside more, “it must be understood there is a cost attached”.


Pensioner Hunter Watson has been campaigning for years for a ban on drugs being hidden in meals in care homes.

His mother Helen was sedated without her consent in Aberdeen.

Helen moved to the home in the late 1990s after suffering delusions.

Hunter, 72, said: “Shortly after entering the home, I visited her and found her unable to get out of bed. She thought she had been given something.

“When I asked, she had had an anti-psychotic drug concealed in her sweet.”

He claimed staff did it a second time. Hunter said: “I saw a care assistant squirting something into her juice with a syringe.”

Former piano teacher Helen was never covertly sedated again.

She died of cancer in 2000.

Guidance from the Mental Welfare Commission states drugs should only be hidden in food or drink when it is in the best interests of a patient, not the convenience of staff.