Legal frameworks for the use of restrictive practices in residential aged care: an analysis of Australian and international jurisdictions

Dementia Elder abuse Civil rights Institutional care People with disabilities Restrictive practices Aged care Australia

The use of restrictive practices to manage the challenging behaviour of people in aged and disability sectors is a key human rights issue in Australia. Restrictive practices, such as seclusion, restricted access to objects, physical restraint and chemical restraint (in the form of medication), are commonly used in aged and disability settings despite research showing that their inappropriate use can cause physical and psychological harm to the person being restricted and constitute a breach of law and human rights.

Some Australian Jurisdictions regulate the use of these practices in the disability and/or mental health sector but the aged care sector remains unregulated with the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth), the primary legislation governing aged care in Australia, containing no provivisions that address or regulate the use of restrictive practices. The unregulated use of restrictive practices in aged care settings in Australia, without legal justification or excuse, is unlawful and amounts to elder abuse.

This paper aims to contribute to contemporary discussion about the regulation of restrictive practices in Australian residential aged care settings by:  

  • Exploring existing laws, policies and practices in Australia and other International jurisdictions;
  • Identifiying legislation (including regulations and standards), case law, and other mechanisms (such as guidelines and safeguards) that comprise the regulatory frameworks that determine the use of restrictive practices; and
  • Providing recommendations for adoption of a properly regulated regime around the use of restrictive practices in aged care.
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