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Intimacy in aged care needs policy protection: paper

Staff enter residents’ rooms without knocking. Couples receive single beds. Workers gossip about residents.

These are some of the ways PhD candidate Alison Rahn, from the University of New England’s School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, said some aged-care facilities prevent couples from being intimate.

Rahn co-authored the paper Conflicting Agendas: The politics of sex in aged care, and said many staff members did not accept that couples may seek intimacy.

She added many aged-care facilities still segregate sexes, including couples, and many ignore the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex residents. “The majority of facilities lack formal policies or guidelines stating their position on residents expressing themselves sexually,” Rahn said.

Rahn explained that there are no government policies to address the sexual needs of aged-care residents and added it’s unlikely the issue will be addressed unless there are legislated measures in place.

For her study, Rahn searched parliamentary documents and newspapers for proposed legislation that might have affected the experience of couples in aged care.

“We analysed 200 documents and found that parliamentary debates revealed a cycle of conflicting agendas and partial solutions to systemic problems experienced by couples in care,” she said. “Debates around residents’ sexual needs have been heated and sensationalist. There are examples of religious institutions aggressively lobbying to override residents’ needs.”

The paper recommended specific human rights legislation for older Australians and that their wellbeing be the guiding principle in political decision-making on behalf of aged-care residents.

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