The Australian government is taking an important step to investigate potential abuses against older people in care facilities and beyond. This week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a Royal Commission to investigate the industry responsible for providing support and health services to older people. Terms of reference are being drawn up now.
Sadly, the commission appears quite timely. The day after it was announced, a leading television news program exposed serious concerns in care facilities for older people, including lack of informed consent for the use of antipsychotic drugs. Another news story this week carried the claim by a geriatric specialist that 80 percent of people with dementia in nursing facilities in Australia are being given those drugs.
Human Rights Watch has found similar abuses in private nursing facilities in the US, concluding that people in such nursing facilities are often at heightened risk of neglect and abuse. This is frequently due to their physical or mental disabilities, and isolation from friends, family and the community. Often, they are unable or not allowed to leave the facility alone. Human Rights Watch determined that in the US, many people are forced to depend entirely on the institution’s good faith and have no realistic avenues to help or safety when that good faith is violated.
The experiences of older people should help shape the terms of reference for the commission. Older people who are most at risk will not have their perspectives included unless the government actively seeks them out. This investigation is about the daily lives of older people, and the Royal Commission has the chance to do this right by including the voices and perspectives of older people using aged care.