Ageism a key driver of Failures within aged care system

Ageism a key driver of Failures within aged care system

EveryAGE Counts makes submission to Royal Commission on Aged Care, Quality and Safety

EveryAGE Counts – a national, coalition-led advocacy campaign aimed at tackling ageism – has told the Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety that ageism – ingrained in widely unquestioned social norms and underpinning the whole system and approach to our care system - is a key driver of failures within the Australian aged care sector.

In its submission to the inquiry, the EveryAGE Counts coalition – which includes the Australian Human Rights Commission, COTA Australia, National Seniors, The Benevolent Society and a diverse range of other organisations and individuals – contends that ageism plays a profound underlying role in contributing to recent high profile examples of neglect and abuse that have led to the Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety.

“Reviews of laws and regulations on things such as staff-to-resident ratios and quality of food in aged care are essential but by themselves, they are not enough. Until we address the underlying ageist attitudes, stereotypes and beliefs that are so entrenched across our society and that inevitably inform and influence our aged care sector, we’re not truly fixing the problem and we will never achieve the fundamental changes and real outcomes we all want to see,” says EveryAGE Counts Co-Chair, the Hon Robert Tickner AO.

”Despite a large, long-running, positive aged care reform agenda in Australia, these problems persist.” 

“We contend that this is so because the systems, practices and ‘perceived wisdoms’ in aged care – including its very separation from other systems of care – are largely still constructed around limiting, stereotyped and damaging views of older people and older age generally.

“When we see older people as a big indistinguishable, separate group – ‘the elderly’ - and fail to see older people simply as people - as ourselves, it is much easier to apply and accept different standards and expectations. Our aged care system is inevitably an institutionalised form of those social norms about the ‘otherness’ of older people,” Mr Tickner says.  

In its submission to the Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety, EveryAGE Counts offers an outline of the main ways it sees ageism playing out within aged care (and what needs to be done to change this), including:

  • the impact of the ‘economic and social burden narrative’ on aged care;
  • the stigmatising of older age, older people and impairment in older age;
  • the absence of a vision of a ‘good life’ that might include impairment in older age;
  • the absence of a vision for a good end-of-life experience and death;
  • unchallenged institutionalisation and segregation of people experiencing impairment in older age;
  • the lack of awareness of ageism and its impacts in aged care;
  • the lack of safeguards against neglect and elder abuse; and
  • the absence of a human rights approach and framework in aged care.

Three broad recommendations

EveryAGE Counts proposes a series of recommendations to the Royal Commission which fall into three broad categories:

  • seeking to change the broader social and political norms about older people, in order to address the problem at its source;
  • reforms to legislation, policy and research to ensure that the design of the aged care system is informed by rights-based principles and responsive to the full diversity of older Australians; and
  • recommendations for aged care providers to strengthen efforts to focus on supporting the wellbeing of aged care users/consumers.

“There are many examples of the way in which extreme risk-averse rules and operational practice in residential aged care constrain the lives and choices of residents, ranging from issues with food preparation to the extremely serious use of physical and chemical restraint.  These actions are generally motivated by a desire to protect residents – for example from the risk of contaminated food, or the possibility of falling from bed or a chair –  but they also result in a range of indignities and losses for them,” says Dr Kirsty Nowlan, Co-chair of the EveryAGE Counts campaign and Director of Strategy, Engagement, Research and Advocacy at The Benevolent Society.

“While the worst examples involve criminal activity and should be treated as such, it is also important to be attentive to the ways in which attitudes, power and resource constraints can create the fertile ground in which abuse and neglect become possible.  Importantly, EveryAGE Counts believes that ageism within the aged care system has contributed to the high profile examples of neglect and abuse that have led to a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety,” adds Dr Nowlan.

The EveryAGE Counts campaign advocates to shift dominant negative social norms about ageing and older people and positively influence the way all Australians think about ageing and older people.

Launched in October 2018, the campaign’s vision is a society where every person is valued, connected and respected, regardless of age and functional health.

For more information about EveryAGE Counts, visit


M: 0421-761-332 (Lisa Hresc)

E: [email protected]


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About The Benevolent Society - Australia’s first charity, working as a catalyst for social justice and change for over 200 years. Founded in 1813, The Benevolent Society advocates for a better life for all Australians, and provides in-home services for older Australians, and people with disability, as well as providing programs in Family support and early intervention.  We help people age well and live their best lives, staying in their homes wherever possible. For more information, please visit, on Facebook/thebenevolentsociety or on Twitter - @BenevolentAU

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