Call to stop couple separation in residential aged care

A new study has highlighted concerns about the sexual and relationship rights of people living in Australian residential aged care.

Research from the University of New England showed many couples in such facilities are unable to have normal sexual relationships.

This is because of systematic and illegal breaches of their privacy, the study stated.

The study is to be published this month in the journal “Elder Law”.

The research stated vehement opposition from religious conservatives meant Australian lawmakers failed to adequately protect the rights of elderly citizens.

“Couples may be separated or provided with single beds only, unable to push them together,” the paper stated.

“Staff frequently enter without knocking, commonly ignore ‘do not disturb’ signs and often gossip about residents.

“Some Australian aged-care facilities will still segregate sexes, including married couples, and many ignore the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and interest residents.”

It was also noted that there was no mandatory staff training about how to respect and respond to consensual sexual relationships between residents.

The paper’s lead author, Alison Rahn, noted that a charter of residents’ rights was instituted in the 1980s.

“The original version protected the sexual rights of residents,” she said.

“But the Catholic Church made sure that was expunged.

“However, the charter still says their privacy must be respected and they have the right to socialise with whoever they choose and to take risks.

“You could read into that to say residents have the right to have their relationships protected, but the reality is much different in most facilities, which are commonly run by religious institutions and charities.”

Ms Rahn is a self-described sex therapist and sex educator.

She said rooms in aged-care facilities needed to be built large enough to allow for double beds.

She added that institutionalised separation of couples once they entered aged care should be stopped.

The paper calls for specific human rights legislation for older Australians.

It also calls for laws to be strengthened to protect couples entering aged care together.

Those who form relationships after entering aged care should also be protected, the paper stated.


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