Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

June 15, 2011

NEW ZEALAND: Renowned flautist, 85, lay dead for 12 days, no one noticed

WELLINGTON / The Dominion Post / National News / June 15, 2011

A renowned musician lay dead and unnoticed on the floor of his Rita Angus village apartment in Wellington for 12 days before he was discovered. The retirement village does checks on residents for $6 a day but former New Zealand Symphony Orchestra principal flautist Richard Giese, 85, had not requested or paid for them. Mr Giese died of a heart attack last year, and his former wife cannot understand why he was not found for so long.

"My nightmare is that someone might have a fall or a stroke and be lying there impaired for weeks," Myra Giese said.

RICHARD GIESE: Was a former New Zealand Symphony Orchestra principal flautist.

Mr Giese, who was with the orchestra for nearly 25 years before his retirement in 1986, lived in an independent apartment at the Kilbirnie retirement village.

He still walked to the shops, went to his own doctor, and practised his flute every day. He was last seen when he visited his doctor on February 22.

Mrs Giese said she was thankful that it looked as if he had died immediately.  She had spoken to him on February 23 and he had mentioned that he was having difficulty breathing. He made a phone call the next day but was not seen or heard from again.

A neighbour noticed his lights were on all day and she had not heard him play for a week. She told village staff on March 8 and police were called.

Mrs Giese said she was shocked to receive a death certificate that said Mr Giese died some time between February 18 and March 8. The vagueness of the date led her to ring the coroner.

"I cannot understand how someone could be not missed for that long a period," she told coroner Ian Smith at an inquest in Wellington yesterday.

She found it hard to believe that no- one had noticed his mail box was not emptied and that no-one had checked him. "I had assumed it would be part of the service."

Susan Bowness, North Island regional manager for Ryman Healthcare, which runs Rita Angus and 22 other villages, said residents were able to request daily checks, for a fee of $6 a day. Mr Giese had never asked for such checks, and it appeared his death was sudden.

Ms Bowness said the company was not required to check on its independent residents. "It needs to be understood that they are truly independent – they only get the services they request."

None of the residents at Rita Angus asked for daily checks and she felt it would be intrusive and a breach of their privacy to do so without being asked.

Mr Smith said he did not go along with daily checking but asked Ms Bowness what could be done to balance the need to ensure residents' safety.

She said management needed to make sure residents understood that the service was available if they needed it.

Age Concern chief executive Ann Martin said there needed to be a balance between privacy and safety. "If neighbours have concerns, it is better to check than to wonder."

© 2011 Fairfax New Zealand Limited