It has a new meaning! Global TV’s “15 x 9” revealed to me last week a spectacular level of journalism nonsense and dishonesty. Here’s what happened.

A producer called and asked if I would appear on TV giving my opinions about antipsychotic medication in dementia. I explained that in good conscience I couldn’t say what I suspected she wanted: “These drugs should not be used and should be outlawed for these patients.” My view is radically different. The problem with antipsychotics (and a lot of other drugs) in elderly people, especially demented people, especially in nursing homes, is bad nursing practice, bad medical evaluation, and bad prescribing. The drugs themselves of course are only good or bad in context of how they’re used. But that’s not what we get from the media, over and over again.

Fine, said the producer, we’d still like to hear from you. She said she found my point of view interesting and that discussion and controversy was what the show was all about. At this point, I mentioned my book and the producer agreed that it could be promoted in their TV piece, which seemed a fair bargain for the unpaid trouble I was going to. As usual in these situations, she was in a hurry. Could I find a patient to interview? I made the necessary adjustments in my schedule, and even offered my poor mother-in-law as a “patient” to give them some visuals. Shooting the interview took almost an hour with (I thought at the time) good long discussion of pros and cons, difficulties and trade-offs, and my version of the reasonable procedure to help troubled and behaviorally difficult demented people.

Then (Saturday, January 21, 2012 7pm PST) the segment aired. I faced the TV expecting an interesting exploration of the complex issues.  My mug appeared for about one minute, saying something like, “Oh yes, it really is a big problem.” The book wasn’t shown or mentioned. The whole rest of the piece was a righteous diatribe against antipsychotic medication, and advocacy for getting people off them at all costs. A nursing home claiming to discontinue these drugs was featured, the message being all you have to do is stop the poison and dear old people return to normal.

Nothing about staffing issues in facilities and the cost of supervision, nothing about what you do with people who are still terrified and screaming even when exposed to aromatherapy, back rubs, cats, and the best nursing care in the world, nothing about the need to be vigilant and careful in prescribing, nothing about the real world of behavior problems in dementia and the scary tough choices that have to be made. The thing was just a simple one-sided misinforming slam dunk exactly like what the media has already shown us a dozen times over the past several years.

My perceptive readers will wonder if I’m just mad at “15 x 9” for not promoting my book. I wouldn’t deny that. I kept my side of the bargain and they didn’t keep theirs.  But what I really find upsetting is the producer and host both knew perfectly well the complexity and unavoidable tough compromises in caring for these most difficult patients, and yet went right ahead with their dangerously one-sided scare-story, calculated to grab listeners’ attention. Ladies, you underestimate your viewers.

I should mention to avoid misunderstanding that the local BC Global TV by coincidence did a news piece on my home care practice recently, and they were courteous, professional, and honest with me. Contrast that with the national producer’s promise to look into why I couldn’t seem to find the antipsychotics piece online, and to get back to me. Deafening silence. Busy with her next work of science fiction.

I promise a post here within a week or two setting out what I think is wrong with what we do to behaviorally troubled demented people. Too bad my average of 20 or so hits a day on this site won’t be disabusing one National Global TV listener in a thousand. But for anybody reading this, a few don’ts: Don’t trust National Global TV’s “15 x 9”, it exists to sell. Don’t overreact to histrionic oversimplified nonsense from any source about medication in dementia. And if you happen to be approached by a Global TV producer, don’t believe anything they say, and don’t let them use your name. I certainly never will again.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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2 Responses to Globaloney

  1. G Monk says:

    It’s “16×9” not “15×9”. (“16×9” is the aspect ratio of all the new televisions.)
    Anyway . . . just goes to show you: Don’t trust the media’s reporting. Their priority is entertainment not information – or at least the *correct* information.

  2. Pingback: The REAL Reason Agitation is a Problem in Dementia | Sunshiners: Frail Old People Living At Home

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