News and Articles

When Aged Care Residents Stop Eating: Blanket Visitor Bans a Dangerous Overreach

April 8, 2020

In response to the threat of COVID-19, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a limit on the number of visits to aged-care facility residents to one per day, with a maximum of two visitors per visit.

While the Prime Minister’s announcement is a reasonable public health order, many aged care facilities have gone beyond this guidance, banning visitors altogether. These restrictions have been given the euphemistic term “voluntary lockdowns”, with exceptions only for palliative care visits. But older people living in aged-care facilities are not volunteering for this. For many older people, such a ban carries huge risks.

“Voluntary lockdowns” by aged care providers can do more harm than good by cutting off older people from vitally important family and social connections. Older people who find themselves unexpectedly alone without control over their circumstances, are at particular risk for a variety of severe, even life-threatening physical and mental health conditions, including cognitive decline.

Such underlying health conditions are harmful enough on their own, but with a disease that is particularly dangerous for people with them, voluntary lockdowns might not be the answer.

In a new op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald, Kim Samuel, founder of SCSC, and Bethany Brown, researcher in older persons rights at Human Rights Watch, make the case that older people should have the choice to receive a visit from a healthy partner, relative or friend. Building on recent research from their respective organizations, Samuel and Brown argue that losing one’s choice in old age is ageism’s hallmark, and stereotypes about older people needing protection rather than making their own choices persist.

Read more in the Sydney Morning Herald.