Elderly refuse vital aged care help due to COVID fear, as staff shortages cause chaos

Despite being overwhelmed caring for her ill husband and nearly 90-year-old mother, Colleen James has decided not to accept help from carers, fearing the increased support may expose her family to COVID.  

Key points:

  • Elderly people are refusing care services due to a fear that COVID will enter their homes
  • A Gold Coast woman is the sole carer for two elderly family members who are fearful of catching COVID
  • Advocacy groups are "very concerned" that so many people are refusing vital services

According to an aged care and disability advocacy group, the 71-year-old is not alone.

Many elderly residents are refusing carer assistance during the pandemic.

Ms James, from the Gold Coast, had been travelling across the NSW border frequently to care for her mother.

"Then lots of things happened and my responsibilities quite substantially increased," she said.

Colleen James is now the primary carer of her elderly mother and husband.(Supplied: Colleen James)

"My stepdad passed away, we just lost my sister, so my Mum was in a pretty bad state and living on her own at this point. I was going to her house every day.

"Then when COVID happened [and] it became very, very hard going back and forth as I've got an elderly husband with multiple health issues who also needs quite a bit of care, so I was torn between caring for the both of them.

"It just began to overwhelm my whole life."

Ms James eventually decided to move her mother into her home to look after her full time and accept some help from outside carers.

"Which was wonderful, it was a big help for me, especially with the house and cleaning things," she said.

"But now because of COVID, I've stopped all of that and I'm taking it all back on board because I'm simply too afraid to have people here.

"Strangers coming into the house, it's [the pandemic's] just all too scary right now."

Services refused, staff shortages

Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia chief executive Geoff Rowe said Ms James's concerns were being felt across the country.

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"Colleen's story is very real. We saw during previous lockdowns that older people were very quick to refuse services in their homes because of their fear of catching COVID," he said.

"Often older people access aged care services in their home because they're unable to do those activities normally, like assistance with showering, dressing, help with meals or house cleaning.

"So they're not really services that older people can afford to miss out on."

He said available services were also being limited due to the number of workers who were unwell or being tested for COVID.

Geoff Rowe is worried people are suffering because they are going without basic care.(Supplied: Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia)

"We're hearing more and more frequently, stories of people unwell and unavailable on a daily basis, not just across aged care but disability as well," he said.

"We know that there are many people with a disability who receive services in-home and we're also hearing that they're getting to a crisis point where they can't get staffing."

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Mr Rowe said older generations were often more reluctant to concede they needed help.

"So I believe we are witnessing a significant group of older people who are at home, without contact and without access to services," he said.

"They are a group of people who won't put their hand up and say, 'I need help', so I'm very concerned about that group of older people, I'm very concerned about their welfare. 

"We hear about the crisis in aged care daily because they're our staff because they're our family who are speaking out about it."

With about 1.3 million aged care services users across the country, Mr Rowe said the number who were likely silently suffering was concerning.

He urged anyone needing assistance at home to talk to their service provider, who may be able to find ways to offer support in a "safe way", including wearing additional PPE, or using digital and other methods.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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