An expert in aged care will visit Geraldton tomorrow to discuss whether it is ethical to treat the elderly as if “they’re newborns”.
Monash University’s Professor Joe Ibrahim, who has conducted extensive research into aged care, was sponsored by Opal Geraldton to talk about a concept called “Dignity of Risk,” which examines why the elderly are largely stripped of decision-making power.
“The decisions they want to make for themselves are often everyday acts younger people take for granted,” Professor Ibrahim said.
“It can be a person wanting to sit on a toilet by themselves, instead of having two people help them get on and off.
“It can be wanting to go to the local coffee shop alone, but it’s decided they can’t because they might get lost or fall and break their hip.
“Or it can be that a doctor has decided a patient’s food needs to go through a blender to reduce risk of choking, but that patient wants to consume food normally.”
Professor Ibrahim said he began exploring the subject after he studied the case of a female stroke victim smoking unsupervised, who dropped the cigarette on her shirt and burned to death.
The professor said he found a natural inclination to protect the elderly and keep them “perfectly safe” which often meant greatly limiting their activities.
“Families are largely driven by their worst fear in these situations, which are huge compared to reality,” Professor Ibrahim said.
“There’s not usually a focus on what will make their elderly relative most happy, which is often something as simple as being able to do things for themselves. My main message is around respecting rights to make choices.”
According to the professor, the biggest barriers to bigger elderly decision-making power were risk-adverse families, social treatment of the elderly as “newborns” and legally untested scenarios regarding the extent an aged-care provider would be held liable if someone was harmed because of a choice they were freely able to make.
The academic said not everyone agreed with his ideas and his views were not representative of Monash University.
Opal Geraldton general manager Carryn Herdman said she was delighted to bring Professor Ibrahim to Geraldton, particularly given the large community of people caring for elderly loved ones.
The presentation will be from 10am tomorrow at Queen Elizabeth II Seniors and Community Centre.