A 90-year-old Sydney woman suffering from dementia beat her husband to death with a flowerpot and a desk lamp during a psychotic episode, a coronial inquest has heard, raising concerns about the growing problem of dementia-related violence.
Ching Tang, 98, died from serious head and neck injuries inflicted in his Surry Hills apartment in March 2010 in what police described as a "violent and frenzied attack".
His wife Clara Tang, then 90, confessed to police that she had killed her husband with a collection of household implements, including a desk lamp, flowerpot, pencil and television remote control, but said she was defending herself.
"She said that her husband had attacked her...that she was defending herself, that she was in fear for her life," the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Sergeant Margaret Ashburn, told Glebe Coroner's Court on Tuesday.
"[But] there were no injuries [Ms Tang] except for bruising on her right hand."
Police believe Ms Tang attacked and killed her husband during a psychotic episode brought on by severe vascular dementia the elderly woman had been suffering from since 2006.
The inquest heard that the elderly woman had been receiving "appropriate treatment" for the condition, including anti-psychotic medication and was due to see a psychiatrist within a number of weeks.
Ms Tang was due to appear in the NSW Supreme Court in August 2011 for a hearing to determine whether she was fit to stand trial for murder, but passed away the day before from natural causes related to her condition.
Justice Health psychiatrist Sharon Reutens, who examined Ms Tang after the killing, said the elderly woman had been suffering from a number of delusions, including that her carer was trying to poison her and that the same woman was having an affair with her grandson.
"There was no evidence that any of this was actually happening but for her they were very fixed beliefs," Dr Reutens said.
The psychiatrist told the inquest that violent and aggressive behaviour was relatively common place among dementia sufferers, as the condition affected the frontal lobes of the brain which were associated with inhibition.
"A study conducted in Cashe County [in the US] examining dementia sufferers over a one month period found that 30 per cent were aggressive or agitated at some point over that period," Dr Reutens said.
Coroner Mary Jerram described this as "interesting but also very worrying".
"It's a terribly sad story really, and frightening to think that as the population ages dementia increases to a significant extent," Magistrate Jerram said.
Speaking after the short hearing, Dr Reutens said while acts of homicide by dementia sufferers were very rare, violent and aggressive behaviour by those with the condition was a growing problem.
"By 2050 a million people [in Australia] will be diagnosed with dementia," she said.
"It [the issue of violence and aggression] will be a major challenge for the health and aged care systems."