West Australian aged care visitor limits expected to remain for some time, despite COVID-19 restrictions easing

Brian Ridge visits his wife, Denise Brown, who lives with Alzheimer’s disease, in her Perth aged care home almost every day.

As they sit together, she has a cup of tea and a scone, and he asks her if she loves him.

She says she does, and he replies, “I love you too”.

The couple have been able to maintain their bond throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on visitors to residential aged care facilities and hospitals, designed to protect the most vulnerable people.

“I usually take her for a drive, we go down the coast,” Mr Ridge said.

“She loves to look at the water, especially if the sun’s sparkling on it. It’s really good.”

Denise Brown dancing
Denise also loves a dance when Brian is not with her.(ABC News: Hannah Campbell)

‘You can’t have open slather’

Limits on visitors to aged care homes, hospitals and disability support accommodation are some of the last remaining COVID-19 restrictions.

More than 30 per cent of COVID-related deaths across the country have occurred in residential aged care facilities, according to federal Department of Health data.

A carer with a green balloon and aged care home residents in chairs
Aged care residents are limited to two visitors a day to protect society’s most vulnerable.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

Under the current West Australian health directions, authorised by the state’s Chief Health Officer Andrew Robertson, only two people can visit a resident in an aged care home each day, to limit any spread of COVID-19.

Mr Ridge and his wife’s sister are usually the only ones who visit her, and he believed the current settings were right.

“It’s just too dangerous. And these people are really susceptible.”

An older couple seated
Brian Ridge supports the restrictions, to protect people like his wife Denise.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

In hospitals, patients are allowed up to two visitors during visiting hours, as well as any “approved visitors”, such as parents and carers.

Larger families upset at access

But not everyone has had the same experience with visitor rules as Mr Ridge, especially people with larger families.

A woman in headshot.
Christine Allen says it is emotionally difficult when families are held back from seeing those they care about.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

“It’s very distressing for families when they are not able to see their loved one as often as they would like to,” Council on the Ageing WA chief executive Christine Allen said.

“It’s particularly traumatising if there is dementia involved.

“While the family understand why they can’t see their loved one, the person living with dementia might not understand that and it can be quite traumatic with people living with dementia when they are removed from contact with their loved ones.”

The visitation rules can also become difficult for families and friends to deal with when the person is in hospital or in care and is experiencing trauma or nearing the end of their life.

Alone at the end of life

Perth woman Deb Letica’s mother-in-law Maria, who had dementia, died in an aged care home just over two weeks ago.

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