Memories of poor little has changed

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23 April, 2014

My grandfather was admitted to a nursing home in Sydney in 1962 suffering from dementia. He was 85. He had migrated from Calcutta some years before to join his children in Sydney. We hadn't seen him for many years but it was obvious when he got off the plane that he wasn't right.

He spent some difficult years at his daughter's house as his condition deteriorated.  

When we visited him in the nursing home on Sydney's lower North Shore we were appalled to find that his wrists were tied to the armrests of his chair and that his ankles were similarly restrained. 

My father complained to the Director of Nursing and his restraints were removed. Shortly afterwards the family noticed that my grandfather was groggy, disorientated and confused. 

They were directed to the visiting doctor who admitted that, under pressure from the nursing staff, he was prescribing a number of psychotropic drugs to my grandfather in order to stop him from wandering. My Dad felt that he needed to discuss the matter with his brother and sister.   

A few days later we received a phone call from the nursing home. My grandfather had disappeared.

Behind his chair in a communal room was an open window. On the floor next to the chair were his glasses and walking stick. My grandfather was virtually blind without his glasses owing to cataracts. 

There was no sign of my grandfather in the grounds of the nursing home and a police search was initiated.

I still have the clippings from the newspapers reporting my grandfather's disappearance. Someone reported giving him a lift near Kings Cross. There were other reports of an elderly confused man fitting his description in several disparate suburbs of Sydney. But he was still missing two weeks later. 

Finally, a homeowner who lived a few hundred metres from the nursing home reported finding a body in his back yard whilst walking his dog. It was my grandfather. He was in a shallow cave on a Sydney Harbour foreshore and he had died of exposure. 

I remember my father's face after having returned from identifying my grandfather's body. He was utterly devastated. It changed him permanently. I don't think he has ever gotten over the sense of guilt  for having left his father in that place.

- Daniel


There to help:
National Dementia Helpline - 1800 100 500
Lifeline - 13 11 14
Beyondblue - 1300 224 636