International new research suggests that thousands of older people in low and middle-income countries are at risk of abuse and human rights violations when being admitted to care homes.

The research, published today in The Gerontologist, looked at care homes in Argentina and revealed that a substantial proportion of residents admitted do not have high levels of care dependency, raising questions about the grounds for admitting them.

In some cases, this may be due to homelessness or the genuine unavailability of family members to provide low-level care. However, the authors found indications of coercive admission by family members, sometimes in order to obtain access to older people’s homes and other property and finances.

Care homes do not usually require or even seek the informed consent of older people, regardless of their cognitive status. The results also suggest that care home owners and staff sometimes collude with family members in inappropriately admitting residents.

There are a growing number of care homes in Asia, Africa and Latin America, yet there is very little information about the appropriateness of procedures for admitting older people. Previous research has suggested that the industry is weakly regulated.

The research was led by the University of East Anglia (UAE) in the United Kingdom and provides the first systematic analysis of admissions practices for residential long-term care facilities, assessing the extent to which older people are involved in admission decisions and whether current practices respect fundamental human rights.

Lead author Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, professor of social policy and international development at UEA, said that in light of their findings, changes to national legal provisions are now being considered by policy-makers.

“Assessing the appropriateness of care home admissions is a complex challenge in all countries,” said Prof Lloyd-Sherlock. “Regardless of the quality of care individuals receive once they have been admitted into a residential care home, inappropriate admission in some cases amounts to abuse, criminal behaviour and the infringement of fundamental human rights.”

“Our research indicates that this practice, which can entail elements of kidnap and false imprisonment, appears to be widespread in countries like Argentina,” said Prof Lloyd-Sherlock. “To date, it has received scant recognition from policy-makers, human rights organizations or academics.”

‘The Admission of Older People Into Residential Care Homes in Argentina: Coercion and Human Rights Abuse’, Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, Bridget Penhale and Nelida Redondo, is published in The Gerontologist, 2018.

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