How far would you go to keep a loved one safe? Is it justified to restrict resident’s to a secured unit even if it’s for “their own good”?

There is a fine balance between allowing older people to do and roam where they wish, and making sure that they are safe from falls and harm – a balance that comes with caring for the elderly.

This is a struggle that aged care facilities are facing, and a recent a review has found that there is “little justification” for ever locking an elderly resident away.

One of the reasoning that facilities and family members may use is that people with dementia tend to be “wanderers” and are likely to get lost and hurt themselves.

Every aged care resident is unique, with their own health issues, varying from physical to cognitive disabilities. And regardless of their condition, there is always the risk that they could find themselves in an unsafe area.

That fear that an elderly person might move around, unaccompanied and without telling anyone, drive people to feel it is better to keep people close by where they can be consistently monitored.

For aged care facilities, they also fear losing their accreditation and reputation should anything go wrong – and do anything possible to ensure nothing goes wrong.

However, many have said that wrapping residents up in cotton wool is “going too far” and denies people of their basic human rights.

Though families want their loved one to be safe, aged care organisations will find that along with safety, residents and their families wish to have independence, autonomy and control over their life.

Falls are the number one cause of premature deaths in aged care – earlier this year it was reported that 2679 older people over 13 years, died from injuries sustained from falls. But if we compare it to the number of people living in care over the years it provides greater context. And, it could be suggested, that the logic is that if people cannot roam, they cannot fall.

Some places have locks and alarm doors. Other, more extreme cases, have been reported to use physical restraints to keep residents to their beds.

And in some cases, pharmaceutical methods are used to keep a person lucid – robbing them of their ability to do much at all.

The methods may vary, but their intentions are the same – to keep the person from going anywhere.

According to dementia advocates, “wandering” in relation to dementia is an offensive idea as it blames the dementia for behaviour that would otherwise not be questioned.

Advocates say that “wandering” is just the person with dementia exploring and getting their bearings of their surroundings.

It should be noted that there are some unique cases, for example some resident feel safer if they are locked away – but it should be noted that this is their choice and what they want, unlike cases where it is done against a person’s wishes.

As the population ages, and the aged care sector grows, more and more Australians will find that living in an aged care facility is a very likely reality.

Living in aged care should be about being comfortable and cared for in the final stages of life – and should by no means resemble a prison sentence.

For the few people that are “saved” by being locked away, how many people are being denied their right and desire to roam, to go outside, and to do as they please?

Something for us all involved in the care of the elderly to contemplate.

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