While visiting a Melbourne aged care home recently, I witnessed a distressing scene.
An old man with a walking frame wanted to go out the front door. He was blocked by staff members who tried to persuade him to turn around and go back. He was shouting that he had the right to go out.
No doubt the staff members were worried about what might happen if he went out alone: he might fall over and injure himself, or try to cross a busy road and possibly be hit by a car. He might get lost. He might catch COVID-19.
But the incident showed that aged care residents are not free. My friend Mary, a resident of the same home, told me she feels as if she is in prison.
The situation was even worse at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. For several months residents were never allowed out and, for part of that time, they were not allowed to have visitors. They are now allowed to go out with friends or relatives. But they are not free to come and go as they please.
While some restrictions on free movement may be necessary for residents’ safety, they need more opportunities to go out. If aged care homes had more staff, they could allow residents out more often. They could go for a walk with a staff member accompanying them, or be driven to shops or a park.