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Private lives played out in public

Author: Rob Gill
17 August 2015
  • Brian Herd pleads for recognition of people's sexuality in aged care facilities in an address to the National LGBTI Health Conference
  • Brian Herd says aged care facility managers need to acknowledge client sexuality and self-expression in care plans

Private lives played out in public was Brisbane lawyer Brian Herd’s abridged description of residential aged care, delivered at last week’s National LGBTI Health Conference in Canberra.

Herd’s keynote address was to the first of four conference streams, Ageing and Aged Care, with the thespian in the ascendancy. His advocacy role took a back seat to a witty presentation that caught the attention of the hundreds strong audience, who had travelled from around Australia and New Zealand for the event.

The essence of his address – that sexual activity and old age were not mutually exclusive – was relevant across the aged care spectrum.

He pleaded with aged care administrators to make sexuality and self-expression part of their care planning, and highlighted the incongruity of many facilities treating sexual intimacy in aged care as a form of assault.

Part of the problem with care, he said, lay with a lack of education for staff and residents on sexual expression.

Staff were also unwilling to brave the moral indignation of families outraged at the thought of their relative in a sexual encounter and, as such, were often a hurdle to residents’ sexual expression.

This was despite an Australian government sponsored sexuality assessment tool (SexAT) for residential aged care facilities, which highlighted the importance of intimacy and the expression of sexuality as fundamental aspects of a person’s wellbeing as they aged.

Herd said that despite the document stressing that many older people in RACFs continued to desire intimacy – ranging from simple touching and cuddles, to sexually explicit contact – there was no requirement in facilities accreditation standards to address issues of sexuality.

Care was good, Herd said, provided it wasn’t harmful, abusive or illegal.

There was much for residential aged care providers to take home from Herd’s presentation – not the least, that the people in their care had normal wishes and desires that warranted acknowledgment.

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