While all age groups are at risk of contracting COVID-19, exposure to coronavirus presents a far greater risk to older people, especially those who have a chronic condition or weakened immune system. Aside from a greater risk of mortality, the ongoing pandemic also carries greater risks of poverty, age discrimination and isolation for some older Canberrans.
For some older Canberrans, COVID-19 and precautionary measures designed to protect their health (ie by limiting gatherings and visits and requiring self-isolation) have necessitated fewer opportunities for social contact with family, friends and service providers. The increased reliance on digital technologies to stay connected while physically distanced has also, for some, reduced access to accurate and essential information about the pandemic, current restrictions and available supports.
The situation of older people in residential aged care is also challenging. Access to residential aged care facilities for visitation has been limited in the ACT by operation of public health directions. We are concerned that in some cases service providers have adopted an overly conservative approach to implementing the directions beyond what is strictly required by the prescribed restrictions. Visits by family and friends provide an important means of monitoring that vulnerable people in closed environments are continuing to be treated humanely and with due respect for their inherent dignity. Restrictions on visits must therefore be only as onerous as strictly necessary having regard to current and evolving public health advice.
Older persons continue to have the same rights as any other age group and must not be subject to stricter public health restrictions based on solely on their age. Efforts to protect older persons must recognise the diversity of older people and the many roles they perform in the ACT, including as caregivers, volunteers and community leaders. Public health responses must accordingly balance older persons’ ongoing autonomy, resilience and positivity with their potential increased vulnerability during the COVD-19 public health emergency.
New laws have recently commenced to enable the Commission to receive and help to resolve complaints about abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable persons, including older people. If you are experiencing or aware of abuse, neglect or exploitation of a vulnerable or older person, you can call us for information and to discuss options for addressing your concerns or you can make a complaint.
ACT Human Rights Commission – Complaints about abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable Canberrans
Public Health (Residential Aged Care Facilities) Emergency Direction 2020 (No 2)
Council on the Ageing – Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes During COVID-19
Council on the Ageing – Information about COVID-19
Health Direct – COVID-19 information and frequently asked questions for older Australians
The Conversation – Coronavirus lockdown measures may be putting older adults at greater risk of abuse
United Nations Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on older persons (May 2020)