Dignity of Risk in Aged Care

Dignity of Risk in Aged Care

Anyone who has had the responsibility to look after another person is tasked with a duty of care. This is a minimum level of care they are obliged to provide to ensure the safety and well-being of their charge. Most of the time, people think of this in relation to looking after children. But the duty of care also applies to anyone looking after persons who are elderly or disabled to ensure their safety and well-being. While the duty of care is an important concept, it is accompanied by a concept known as the dignity of risk.

Dignity of risk is the principle that self determination and the right to take reasonable risks are essential for dignity and self esteem, particularly in the aged community. Dignity of risk is balanced  by the duty of care and these concepts enable respect of any individual’s personhood and autonomy.

Whether you require care and support due to a disability or you provide such care and support to a loved one or as a professional, understanding and properly applying the concepts of duty of care and dignity of risk are the foundation of safe, respectful, and dignified care in any circumstance. 

What is Dignity of Risk?

Dignity of risk is a fundamental privilege of adulthood that refers to the right of all people to handle reasonable tasks that involve a known or expected level of risk. It also includes the person’s right to make their own choices and decisions, otherwise known as autonomy. This applies even when those decisions may put them in harm’s way. The idea behind the dignity of risk is that these tasks and choices are a vital element of learning, enabling growth, establishing self worth, and therefore improving  quality of life.

While the term may be unfamiliar to some, many people are already comfortable with the concept. Parenthood is a common area where the dignity of risk is balanced for children who may not always have sufficient understanding to make choices that are in their best interest. Instead, parents alternatively either make decisions for their children or allow their child’s input on a daily basis. As with normal activities such as riding a bike, going out with friends, catching the school bus, or eating unhealthy foods, most things we do as children involve a certain element of risk. These decisions are made with the understanding that a child needs to grow, try new things, and learn to deal with hard situations when they occur 

Parents also work to minimise these risks, in order to protect their children through training or risk management strategies. These include actions such as safety gates on stairs for babies, training wheels on a bike for a toddler, or learner plates on the car of a learning driver.

The same principles apply to the elderly as their senses begin to decline and their bodies become more fragile. Dignity of risk is a principle upheld and implemented by those who provide care and support to the aged community, being sure to take a clients dignity of risk into account whenever a task is at hand and to work to minimise these risks for their clients.

Why is Dignity of Risk an Important Principle in Aged Care?

A sense of judgement is essential to our humanity. We make choices on a daily basis that have consequences, and by facing them we learn and grow.

Dignity of risk is an important part of looking after the elderly since it prioritises an individual’s ability to make decisions for themselves. Individuals have a right to fail, and when they are allowed to fail, they experience a higher level of human dignity. The ability to make choices about their lives is more important than protecting them to avoid risk at all costs. 

What is an Example of Dignity of Risk?

Imagine your loved one once enjoyed taking long walks along forest trails, cooking up a storm in the kitchen, or dancing to their heart’s content with their partner. Unfortunately, these activities and many more that we take for granted can become riskier as you get older and lose some of your strength, coordination, and physical capability. But is it more important that we stop doing these activities, while sacrificing our joy, just to stay safe and prolong life? Or is it more important to be happy and fulfilled in the life that we lead?

The purpose of the care or support provider is to help to minimise those risks while ensuring their quality of life and their dignity remains intact. Nevertheless, there is an inherent conflict for the caregiver to meet their duty of care, while allowing their loved one or client the freedom to take reasonable risks while being responsible for their well-being.

Why is Dignity of Risk an Important Consideration when Planning Activities for Clients?

Taking the dignity of risk into account when planning activities for clients will help you determine the best course of action to ensure their quality of life remains intact. Rather than making someone a cup of tea or cooking them dinner, they may just need supervision, equipment or assistive device set up, or someone to do small tasks on the side to minimise the risks involved.

The notion of community care is evolving and, at Maple Community Services, we understand our clients don’t want to just be cared for. Instead, we can support them to live their lives to the fullest with the help of planning, risk management, and support services.

It’s important for anyone providing support services to strike a balance between valuing a client’s right to exercise control, while ensuring their safety and well-being in a humble manner.