Elderly put independence ahead of safety

Monday, 21 August 2006

Most retired people do not plan ahead when it comes to aged care for their latter years, according to a study by University of Adelaide psychologist Dr Linley Denson.

Dr Denson's study found that elderly people are prepared to risk their own health in order to maintain their independence and lifestyle, and avoid discussing aged care options with their families.

The findings result from interviews with elderly people still living at home, younger relatives and health care professionals, as well as a statewide health survey of 3000 adults, organised through the SA Health Department.

"Everyone knows it is a very painful and difficult decision to go into a nursing home or hostel and causes stress all round - for the elderly person as well as their relatives," Dr Denson says.

"The best option is for elderly people to remain in their own home, but this is dependent on their health and safety. While most elderly people feel that frail individuals should consider the residential care option, they are reluctant to apply this to themselves."

Overall, the 3000 adults who took part in the community survey indicated that the elderly person's physical health and safety was the highest priority when considering decisions about residential care. The elderly person's autonomy and personal wishes were given a lower priority.

"This pattern was less evident among older people, who listed independence, the elderly person's mental abilities and the amount of support available at home as more important.

"Relatives are caught in the middle. They feel responsible, but they don't want to make a decision that will upset their parents and cause a lot of stress."

The upshot is that most families do not address the issue, Dr Denson says.

"I think we all sort of gamble that we will be okay and will live on in perfect health in our own home. We hope we'll either die suddenly in our sleep or someone will step in and help us and we'll never have to move or downsize. People tend to rely on luck, good health and their families."

"It's important that families sit down and talk about this issue. Discussions are more likely to be fruitful if they focus on maintaining the elderly person's control and choice, rather than focusing on safety. Most elderly people do not want others to take responsibility for their health."


Contact Details

Dr Linley Denson
Email: linley.denson@adelaide.edu.au
Senior Lecturer
School of Psychology
University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5693
Mobile: +61 0403 028 237

Mr David Ellis
Email: david.ellis@adelaide.edu.au
Website: https://www.adelaide.edu.au/newsroom/
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762