“I think it is time to investigate whether the present culture in residential aged care is suitable for the next generation,” says Ph.D. Candidate Alison Rahn from the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences.
She says most aged care facilities don’t allow partners to share a bed or room while research has shown this could impact on people’s health and wellbeing.
“Research shows for most people, sleeping with a partner is a social activity and when their partner is not there they can’t sleep properly.”
Ms Rahn says people can become withdrawn or display challenging behaviours if they are deprived of loving touch.
168 baby boomers participated in an online survey and 29 aged care workers were interviewed as part of her research.
The outcome showed baby boomers want to sleep in the same room and bed as their partner and for them to be provided with as much privacy as possible.
About 50,000 aged care residents are married or in a de facto relationship, and partners make up about 35% of new admissions into aged care facilities.
Speaking on a local radio station recently Ms Rahn explains a lot of the current situation has to do with government funding.
“Federal funding is quite restrictive,” she says. “Many facilities budgeting arrangements are not sufficiently flexible to allow another person to come into the room without government funding coming in for that person.
She tells of couples wanting to enter a facility together but this being prevented because of limited funding or lack of space. Couples that did manage to find a place in aged care together where often discouraged from being together.
“Sleep is essential for good health. For many people who have been in a long term relationship are so comforted by the presence of their partner, that the absence of that partner causes great distress, interrupted sleep and health can decline quite rapidly in that situation,” she says.
Ms Rahn has spoken about the need for management and staff give couples the privacy to conduct their relationships in bed however they wish.
“Some people welcome some space from their partner after all those years together but for those who do want to maintain that closeness it is actually very challenging for them.”
She even calls partners an overlooked resource for aged care providers. “Partners often look after each other and they’re actually reducing the need for staff to look in on them.”
Very rarely partners have the same health needs at the same time and most couples are separated by one of them going into care and the other one remaining in the family home.
“For many it’s extremely distressing, after so many years together, to be separated from the person they love,” Ms Rahn explains.
“We need to rethink what services we offer older couples. The current system suits singles reasonably well but it doesn’t suit couples at all because it doesn’t take into account their relationship.”