Elder Abuse – Enough Is Enough

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If you see something – Say something!

This is an unacceptable violation of the rights of older people.

The prevalence study states that the most common form of abuse is: psychological abuse (11.7%), followed by neglect (2.9%), financial abuse (2.1%), physical abuse (1.8%) and sexual abuse (1%). Some older people (3.5%) experienced more than one type of abuse. The most common combination is psychological abuse and neglect.

The abuse of older people is clearly happening in Australia right now, and there is plenty we can do.

In Australia, older people are often denied their human rights. This is a result of ageism and ageist attitudes leading to abuse, neglect, and poor care. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety demonstrated this. We know that domestic and family violence increased during the recent COVID-19 lockdowns. We suspect there was a correlating increase in the abuse of older people.

Older people have a right to feel safe and respected. Give them a voice at every stage of their aged care journey.

The older person’s family, friends and trusted health professionals are well-placed to recognise and respond to abuse. However, perpetrators of abuse are often family members, adult children, friends, neighbours or acquaintances.

But no matter how difficult, it is important for us all to be aware of the possibility that abuse may be occurring. This means we need to recognise and respond appropriately to signs of abuse. We need to speak up and inform ourselves and older people of the support available. We must also educate people on what abuse is. Some people may not be aware that their behaviour is abusive.

raising awareness on elder abuse

So, what is abuse of an older person?

This is key as many older people and those that are entrusted to care for them often do not recognise the signs and risk factors of abuse. Abuse is often complex, deeply personal, and unique to each person. Sometimes, both the victim and perpetrator do not recognise that what is occurring is abuse.

According to the prevalence study, family members make up nearly 20% of abuse perpetrators. Additionally, only a third of people experiencing abuse seek assistance. Many older people are concerned that confronting or reporting the abuser may mean a lack of contact with grandchildren. Some fear that they will be further isolated from family.

This study also states that negative attitudes, such as ageism, resentment of the older person and the caregiving role and lack of empathy and understanding toward the older person can set the scene for abuse. While a Carers Australia report from 2016 cites that caregiver stress can also be a factor in the abuse of an older person.

“Worryingly, almost two-thirds of older people don’t seek help when they are abused,” said the Honourable Dr Kay Patterson AO, Age Discrimination Commissioner. Kay is a Walk the Talk Ambassador and a strong advocate for older people and issues of abuse.

Walk the Talk!!

In a nationwide response to the abuse of older people, the 7th National Elder Abuse Conference, “Walk the Talk”, was hosted in Hobart, Tasmania. The conference presentations focused on driving change and on speaking up to ensure Australia cares for all people, young and old. Many presenters spoke with a passion that the more we speak up and “walk the talk”, the greater the awareness and the more likelihood of a better rate of prevention.

At the conference, Dr Rae Kaspiew, AIFS Deputy Director of Research and co-author of The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study: Final Report, said the findings reveal a significant hidden problem in Australia. “The fact that it’s often the people closest to them who are committing the abuse is particularly concerning, as this can create a desire by the victim to keep the abuse a secret to avoid shame, embarrassment and negative repercussions for the perpetrator – especially when it comes to family members.”

What’s it about?

Walk the Talk conference sessions focus on the various forms of abuse and innovative approaches to address and reduce occurrences. Diverse communities were highlights of the program.

One of the plenary sessions was an in-depth discussion on emotional, physical, medical and financial elder abuse across Victorian Aboriginal communities. This highlighted the need to respect Elders through information and education.

A well-attended session on financial abuse included a presentation on a trial program addressing financial abuse by Victoria Police. The result was a much better outcome for older people experiencing elder abuse than the service was experiencing before the trial program commenced. Shannon Wright, CEO of Seniors Rights Service in NSW, presented innovative communication tools developed by the organisation to inform people in diverse communities about financial abuse.

A panel hosted by Compass, an Elder Abuse Action Australia (EAAA) project, discussed financial safety and how improving the digital literacy of older people improves financial safety, as well as a discussion on what financial literacy means and how it helps keep people safe.  

The panel included:

  • Brendan French, Executive General Manager, Customer and Community Advocacy, CBA
  • Anna Bligh, CEO, Australian Banking Association,
  • Mary Patetsos, President, FECCA.
  • Dr Catherine Barrett, Director of OPAL Institute in partnership with OPAN

They highlighted ten actions to help prevent sexual abuse. This is vital and necessary training for residential aged care workers. It aims to prevent the estimated 50 sexual assaults that occur each week in residential aged care.

The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) sent a delegation of staff and older people who participated in several sessions.

Samantha Edmonds, Manager of Policy and Systemic Advocacy Older Persons Advocacy Network, facilitated a panel session. The spoke to One Year on from the Royal Commission: Will the rights of older people be better protected?

Importantly OPAN, via Community Sponsorships, assisted older people from diverse lived experiences to participate in this panel. The panel included:

Ian Yates AM, CEO, COTA, Theresa Flavin, Kevyn Morris, Val Fell and Danijela Hlis. All are members of OPAN’s National Older Persons Reference Group Members. Their various perspectives added the much-needed voices of older people on the complex issue of elder abuse.

The panel discussed whether recent restrictive practice reforms and the introduction of the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) have resulted in greater protection of the rights of older people. They also discussed if they reduced abuse and neglect, all from the perspective of older people themselves.

OPAN Education manager Helen Walker presented on Abuse of the Older Person: eLearning Program for Health and Aged Care Professionals. This is OPAN’s free online training module that supports health and aged care workers to assess and respond appropriately to signs of abuse.

A Call to Action

Invited decision-makers from approximately 35 key and influential organisations within the sector came together to design a short Action Plan that all organisations attending the think tank will sign up to support. EAAA will circulate the Action Plan to participants in the conference and other stakeholders.

So who is OPAN?

The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) comprises nine state and territory member organisations. They helped thousands of older people work through issues and concerns with their aged care services. Aged care advocacy provides a crucial means for individuals to understand and exercise their rights when engaging with the aged care system. All older people should have access to an advocacy service. This service needs to promote and protect their human rights across a broad range of issues with aged care services. The network members are independent of the government and aged care providers.

In the last financial year alone, OPAN member organisations responded to over 2,344 occasions of support. These were for older people at risk of or experiencing abuse and over 23,000 occasions of general advocacy support. Due to increased demand, OPAN has significantly increased the number of professional aged care advocates available across Australia. Advocates can be contacted by calling the free and confidential 1800 700 600 line.

Anyone concerned about the abuse of an older person or their own safety can call OPAN 1800 700 600 or 1800 ELDER Help (1800 353 374).

Walk the talk together – speak up and call abuse out.

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