Why We Abuse the Elderly

In Australia, we have just completed a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Some people were shocked at the findings, which emerged out of this enquiry. More than 10, 500 submissions and the testimony of 600 witnesses were considered during the two years it ran. Elderly Australians have been abused, drugged into submission and treated abhorrently according to the evidence provided to the commission. The rights of those in aged care have been sorely neglected and transgressed over many decades here in Australia within the current federally run system. It is time to ask ourselves why we abuse the elderly and why we allow this abuse to go on unchecked despite countless reviews into the current system for aged care?

Nobody Likes Getting Old

I would like to take things right back to their essential base level and iterate our ingrained distaste for getting old and ageing. Each of us, as individual adults, have to deal with the fact of our own ageing every day. We all live an allotted time, and our youth is, in many ways, our golden period during our lifetime. The young are naturally beautiful and glow with nature’s proclivity for procreation. The truth of life is that, as much as we fool ourselves sometimes, we cannot escape our biological clocks. Getting old is disguised culturally in the west via fashion and behaviour for as long as humanly possible. It is not cool to get old and the elderly are not a respected cohort within our societies.

Outsourcing Our Responsibilities

Each of us knows someone or is related to someone that is much older than ourselves. Family ties bind us to those who have come before us. Many of us profess to love our parents and grandparents. However, as the Sphinx’s riddle tells us, human beings are reduced in old age from two to three legs with the aid of walking stick or cane. In fact, we are all reduced further in great old age to creatures requiring substantial care for our ongoing survival. Today, we outsource this care to the state and corporate providers. Their facilities house and home around 300, 000 older Australians in residential aged care. It is a business, of course, with a mix of corporate and non-profit organisations providing this residential care to the elderly.

The Ancient Romans Used Slaves to Look After Tasks Like These

What happens when you outsource your familial responsibilities to others who do not share the blood ties? You have paid good money to ensure the care of your elderly parents or grandparents within one of these residential aged care facilities. Shock upon shock you discover to your horror that your parent or relative is not, always, receiving the loving care you imagined they were. In actual fact, the poorly renumerated staff who work in these facilities are abusing your loved one because there are not enough of them rostered on and they are not particularly well trained anyway. You have turned a blind eye to the aged care sector as a whole and allowed this systematic neglect of those who work in the industry to exist. Bad luck for them that they are so disrespected by our society that their work is seriously undervalued and under recompensed. Bad luck for your loved one that their vulnerability sees them copping the abuse down the food chain. The Ancient Romans used slaves to look after tasks like these.

Why we abuse the elderly is because we don’t like looking old age and decay in the eye. We outsource the work of wiping arses and treating bed sores to others. We sit back and are content to observe that these people doing this work are not properly paid and trained to do this challenging and sensitive labour. We want someone to blame within the facilities or in the companies and governments running them.  We pay large amounts of money to lawyers and public servants to conduct countless reviews into the aged care sector, but nothing ever changes. Government ministers nod sagely at the media cameras and say how terrible it all is but that it is an incredibly complex issue. Time is not in the corner of the elderly and soon they will have passed on to greener pastures or an urn. Governments do as little as possible and wait out each crisis until the next time. Making money is more important to future generations and the focus is always on the economy. Australia does not value the care of its elderly and sees it as a time share business. Minimising costs is the key to making profits in this kind of business.

Nobody really likes getting old and dying, it is simply a fact of life to be borne. Workforces do not like having older Australians on their payrolls. Young HR managers avoid hiring older workers wherever possible. Anyone who has gone to a few job interviews in their forties and fifties will attest to this fact. Youth is the name of the game for all species of life and Homo sapiens are no exception. Traditional societies treated their elderly with greater respect, until it was time for them to wander off into the desert or up the mountain to their death. Indigenous tribes understood the sanctity of life in terms of an individual’s contribution to the tribe. Locking up loads of useless human beings in institutions designed to keep them in stasis is a clinical horror show in disguise, which is cosmetically crafted to assuage the guilt of their younger relatives. We are going to have to face some facts about what life actually is pretty soon. Older Australians are being drugged into submission, bashed into behaviours, and generally abused by undermanned, underpaid, and undertrained staff in these residential aged care facilities.

Young people occasionally feel sorry for old people if they are not too busy. Those working in aged care are very busy and often are holding down multiple jobs because the pay is so poor. Dealing with really old individuals requires sensitivity and time. Those running these facilities do not want to pay the extra money to increase staff levels to meet what is required. Registered nurses are much more expensive to have on staff than carers because they are properly trained in the medical care of their patients. We have an innate distaste for those human beings in decay and dementia. This must be professionally overcome by those who work in the aged care sector and they need to be properly trained and renumerated to achieve this. There are no easy and cheap solutions to this abhorrent situation. We all bear some responsibility for this state of affairs in Australia in 2021. We have allowed it to continue for far too long. The exquisite irony is that you and I will soon be under the care of this system. Buckle up my friends for a bumpy and painful ride into extreme old age in Australia.

©Robert Hamilton