Elderly people ‘incarcerated’ in aged care – News Report

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Australia needs to stop ‘incarcerating’ people for being old or having dementia and instead help them live, the aged care royal commission has been told.

Advocate Kate Swaffer says the residential aged care sector needs to move away from institutions and the segregation of people with dementia, arguing they are breaches of human rights.

Ms Swaffer said putting people in institutions, especially with locked doors, is a form of forced incarceration.

“We’ve taken to thinking it’s okay to incarcerate people for getting old or for having dementia,” she told the royal commission on Friday.

Ms Swaffer, the chair and CEO of advocacy and support group Dementia Alliance International, said housing people with dementia separately to anyone else in an assisted living facility is no less than segregation.

“A dementia village, in my view, is a sugar-coated ghetto,” she said in her statement to the commission.

Ms Swaffer said when she was diagnosed with younger onset dementia a decade ago at 49, people advised her to go home and prepare to die.

“Being told only to give up work, only to give up uni, only to get my end-of-life affairs in order and get acquainted with aged care, was like a prescription for giving up life.”

Ms Swaffer said people around the world are still mostly advised to prepare to die after being diagnosed with dementia, rather than supported to live with the acquired cognitive disabilities.

“They’re supported to go home and die, not to live with dementia.”

Ageing and dementia expert Professor Henry Brodaty told the inquiry he has assessed patients for depression whose main complaint is they don’t want to be a nursing home.

The professor, from the University of NSW’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, said some aged care residents feel trapped.

“They feel they’re prisoners. They say ‘I’m a prisoner here’,” he told the Sydney hearing.

He said some residents were in locked sections of nursing homes and could not “escape”, while others did not have the means or ability to leave the facility.

“Unfortunately, there is no realistic alternative,” he said in his commission statement.

“Family are unable or unwilling to care for them and they are unable to care for themselves.”

Closing the eight-day hearing into residential aged care, senior counsel assisting the commission Peter Gray QC said the constant theme from witnesses was the need to respect the enduring humanity of the people in care.

“Older Australians who move into residential care do not leave their rights at the door of the facility,” Mr Gray said.

“A resident living with dementia is entitled to respect and dignity and the freedom to live their life as they choose to the greatest practicable extent, as much as any other human being.”

He said disparities in the subsidies and support for people diagnosed with dementia after turning 65 – or 50 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – and those who can access the NDIS if they become disabled with dementia before that age “are stark and seem discriminatory”.

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