A regional Victorian aged care advocate says the mental health of older Australians is being eroded by ongoing lockdowns, ageist language and being cut off from families.
- Senior Australians are accustomed to a level of private daily discrimination
- The daily news cycle during COVID-19 has worsened the situation
- Many older Australians are now terrified of entering aged care
Senior Australians over 60 are accustomed to a level of private daily discrimination, with everything from finding work, to applying for bank loans, accessing services navigating technology and dealing with health care professionals.
Aged care advocate and consumer representative Maria Berry says dismissive language used to categorise older Australians in the daily news cycle during COVID-19, has verified her fears of deep-set ageist attitudes in our culture.
Ms Berry is a former aged care worker turned advocate.
She said authorities brushed off the deaths of older people, particular in aged care facilities, as inevitable, “collateral” damage.
“Seeing it every single day and the different things portrayed across the media, on the news and so forth, some people just can’t turn it on anymore. They are just so over it,” she said.
“They are really quite upset. There’s an influx of information and confusion — people are just overwhelmed, they don’t know where to go, they don’t know where to turn.”
Ms Berry says many older people are made to feel like they are a burden in a world of efficiency, where everyone has become time-poor and task-oriented.
She said older people are often lumped into the same box or category of cognitive ability which encourages a derogatory and patronising tone that is particularly offensive to older Australians.
“‘This is what you are going to do; you will do as you’re told,” Ms Berry said, referencing the way that older people have been addressed during the pandemic.
“We are not children; we are valuable contributors to our country. We are educated; we are not stupid,” she said.
She says retirees have lived full and productive lives, have plenty of wisdom to offer and remain the backbone of the volunteer workforce.
“There is a local lady here, she’s 94, and she was making morning tea boxes to pass out in our community as her contribution to help lift people’s spirits,” she said.
“At 94, she’s still driving her car.”
With deaths and COVID outbreaks at numerous facilities, many older Australians are now terrified of entering aged care.
“A whole person’s wellbeing is not just the physical side of things, it’s the social side as well”, she said of facilities that need to find a balance between COVID protocols and keeping residents mentally engaged and connected.
Aged care residents living with dementia and their families have particularly been impacted by visitation restrictions during lockdowns.
Ms Berry observes that once aged card residents give up hope, their health typically declines quickly.
Having worked with many grieving families who have been denied visitation with loved ones in palliative care due to COVID restrictions, Ms Berry wants older Australians and their families to be aware of the Charter of Aged Care rights.
Echoing one of its key principles, Ms Berry says an older person has a right to “have control over and make choices about my personal and social life including where the choices involve personal risk”.
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