Are we neglecting our elderly?

Australian of the Year, Ita Buttrose says she’s prepared to pressure governments into acting over concerns about aged care.



Ms Buttrose says she wants to publish first hand accounts from people who’ve written to her about how their loved ones have been treated in aged care facilities.


She says she’s appalled by the stories of neglect and poor treatment, including people being left malnourished and prescribed anti-psychotic medications.


This report by Greg Dyett.


It’s something Ita Buttrose has been doing for decades – campaigning to get governments to take public health challenges seriously.


In the 1980s it was over HIV-AIDS where she played a key role in shaping a national response which prevented thousands of people from becoming infected.


These days she’s campaigning to improve Australia’s response to dementia as the national president of Alzheimer’s Australia.


Ita Buttrose says the stories of neglect and inappropriate care are a symptom of a society that doesn’t put enough importance on how it treats its older citizens.


She says politicians and the bureaucrats who administer the system should ask themselves what they would expect if they were in aged care.


“What kind of care would we all want, would people in government, would people in the public service want if they had to go in to an aged care facility and if they had dementia, how would they wish to be looked after, would they wish to be given anti-psychotic drugs which happens in many nursing homes so that they remain passive and not a problem to anybody, would they wish to be not fed well, not fed sometimes at all or would they like to have the sort of care that one would expect to have in our later years? A loving, attentive, well fed, warm, things to do, activities, I mean people with dementia still need activities, they can’t just sit in front of the television and do nothing.”


One factor contributing to the problems Ita Buttrose identifies is a degradation in training.


Nurse educator Doctor Maree Bernoth has spent almost two decades teaching nursing and carrying out research.


Dr Bernoth has been studying health care outcomes in aged care since 2006 and she says standards are dropping partly because some of the people providing care in nursing homes are not as well trained as they could be.


“When the national, nationally accredited course came in, people had to do a course, it was around about a 12 month course and people had to have 150 hours of clinical experience before they got their Certificate 3. Now you can do a Certificate 3 in aged care work in a weekend. Over a weekend, you can do it online, you can do the Certificate 3 aged care work without actually touching an older person.”


There are other problems too for families who are looking for culturally-appropriate aged care.


Ljubica Petrov is the manager of the Melbourne-based Centre for Cultural Diversity and Ageing.


She says elderly people from migrant backgrounds would be better served if there was a greater use of language services in nursing homes.


“In residential aged care services there is a very minimal use of language services. The Department of Health and Ageing does fund language services to be available to improve communication between service providers, carers and their service users. However I do know that that service is not utilised to its maximum.”


Ljubica Petrov says Australia’s aged care regulators have a role to play in helping to improve the way aged care service providers treat people from diverse backgrounds.


“The aged care standards that are monitored by the aged care standards and accreditation agency often tend to relegate cultural diversity into the sphere of lifestyle. However our message is that cultural diversity needs to be addressed across all standards. That is it’s imperative for people to be able to communicate effectively and to know about specific needs that belonging to a particular culture might have with it when they’re delivering clinical care, pastoral care, any service that they provide.”


Ita Buttrose believes the power lies with the people.


She says it’s going to take a public campaign to force governments to address the issues.


Ita Buttrose says publishing the letters she’s received will prompt action.


“I’m going to seek permission of those people who have written to me to publish their letters, I’m very happy to remove names and places and all those sort of things and naturally I wouldn’t put anything that no one would give me the tick to do (permission to do) but the only way, the only way I think we can really convince governments that they need to take action is by publishing or putting on our website the real life stories of people and you can tell from the way they write that what they’re telling you is very true and very truthful, no one is making anything up here.”






Sorry, Comments are closed.