Inquiry sheds light on elder abuse

Thursday, 7th June, 2018

A new inquiry is looking at helping to protect vulnerable older people.

A PARLIAMENTARY probe into elder abuse is revealing the depth of the problem, with older people increasingly at risk of physical, psychological and financial abuse.

Committee chairman Nick Goiran said the inquiry was looking at ways to better protect the vulnerable.

In the lead-up to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, Mr Goiran said the committee had so far held 10 public hearings.

“Some key themes which have emerged include the need for a more co-ordinated response from government agencies to provide support for victims of elder abuse and the crucial role that education campaigns play in bringing elder abuse out of the shadows,” he said.

“The committee has heard about the devastating effect elder abuse can have on older West Australians and on family relationships.”

Mr Goiran said the most common forms of abuse were financial, which can include stealing money and misusing a power of attorney, and psychological, such as intimidating or humiliating the victim.

Seniors’ rights advocates, legal experts, aged care services and other authorities have made submissions to the inquiry.

Risk factors for abuse include social isolation, health and cognitive impairment, family dynamics and carer stress.

WA Public Trustee Brian Roche, who investigated 51 cases of financial elder abuse last year, said prosecution could be difficult as the abused may not have the capacity to give evidence, may not wish to prosecute a family member, fear care may be withdrawn or that they may not see their grandchildren again.

Advocare reported that between July 1 and December 31 last year the Elder Abuse Hotline received on average 43 calls a month. A record 88 calls in January this year resulted in 21 advocacy cases.

Children of the older person were the most likely to commit abuse.

Advocare chief executive Diedre Timms “absolutely” welcomed the inquiry.

“It is fantastic people are concerned enough to raise the issue,” she said. “We just need to make sure we get some action out of it, such as more education and support on the ground.

“I do not think people actually believe elder abuse happens, because it happens behind closed doors on a lot of occasions and in residential facilities where we do not have enough eyes and ears.”

Ms Timms said our understanding of elder abuse is 20 years behind that of child abuse and 10 years behind domestic violence.

“I think it is closely tied to the ageist society we live in,” she said.

“Older people are not valued in our communities. A massive education program would be fantastic.”

The Council on the Ageing WA (COTA) also identified the need for education and said the growth of online financial transactions seemed to be making it easier for older people to be defrauded.

The committee is due to report its findings on September 13. For more information on the work of the committee, phone (08) 9222-7379.

If you, or someone you know, is being abused, contact the elder abuse helpline in your state:

  • WA Elder Abuse Helpline, 1300-724-679
  • NSW Elder Abuse Helpline, 1800-628-221
  • Queensland Elder Abuse Helpline, 1300-651-192
  • South Australia Elder Abuse Prevention Line, 1800-372-310
  • Northern Territory Council on the Ageing (COTA) Elder Abuse Information Line,1800-037-072
  • ACT Older Persons Abuse Prevention Referral and Information Service, (02) 6205-353 
  • Tasmanian Elder Abuse Hotline, 1800-441-169 
  • Senior Rights Victoria, 1300-368-821 

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