Elder abuse: We must all care

Elder abuse is not OK, but it's OK to ask questions

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It's World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 with the message it's OK to ask questions.


Every day hundreds, if not thousands, of older Australians experience abuse or neglect.

They could be living at home or in residential care.

Much of the abuse is at the hands of someone they know and trust.

From psychological abuse such as name-calling and belittling, to exploitation like stealing, or assault by slapping or punching, and even sexual attack - elder abuse exists mostly behind closed doors.

Often the perpetrator is a family member - a son, daughter or grandchild. Sometimes they are a carer or someone else the older person should be able to trust.

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day - a time when organisations around the world highlight the fact that elder abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of their lifestyle or financial situation. And that it is not OK.

How many cases of elder abuse occur in Australia every year is unknown - there is surprisingly little data. State-based helplines publish their own statistics but they reflect only those people who reach out for help.

Many victims never report their abuse for fear of further alienating family, fear of their abuser, isolation, or because they don't realise that what they are facing is abuse.

What is known from international research is that the prevalence of elder abuse could be as high as 14 per cent in any given year - and higher for neglect.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard that more than 39 per cent of people living in aged care facilities had experienced abuse.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies is conducting a national prevalence study into the abuse of people aged 65 and over and hopes to produce a report later in the year.

The study involves a survey of 7000 over-65s living in the community, focusing on their experience of abuse; and 3500 people aged 18-64, focusing on knowledge of elder abuse, attitudes towards older people and the extent the participants provide assistance to older people.

It's OK to ask

We all know elder abuse is not OK. But what is OK is asking questions about elder abuse.

That's the message this Elder Abuse Awareness Day: It's OK to have concerns, it's OK to want help and it's OK to ask for advice.

Between 2 and 14 per cent of older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year, although the actual figures could be higher as many cases remain unreported.

'Perfect storm'

Speaking on the International Day of Older Persons last October, Age Discrimination Commissioner Kay Patterson described loneliness, COVID-19 and its resulting financial pressures as the "perfect storm" for abuse.

She said it was important people knew the signs of abuse and understood it can happen to any older person, regardless of their background or lifestyle.

Older Persons' Advocacy Network chief executive Craig Gear agrees.

"One in eight people aged over 65 living in Australia is lonely, and one in 12 are socially isolated, putting them at increased risk of poor health outcomes and vulnerability to abuse and neglect," he said.

"We can and should be doing be doing more to ensure older people ... are safe and feel safe."

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is defined by the World Health Organisation as a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.

Elder abuse can happen anywhere - in residential aged care, home care and in families.

It can take many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, financial, social and neglect. While physical or sexual abuse can be more easily identified, the other forms can slide under the radar with people not realising it constitutes abuse.

It can involve feeling pressured to make a financial decision or to give money to someone; being threatened or harassed; having someone restrict access to support networks or social outings, or opening mail/screening phone calls; not being provided with adequate food/clothing/shelter/health and hygiene care or improper use of medication.

Training package

The Older Persons' Advocacy Network has a new elder abuse training package for health and allied health professionals.

Formed in collaboration with Age Discrimination Commissioner Kay Patterson and a national coalition of health professionals, the package will help health professionals spot the signs of abuse and know where to seek support.

"This will mean more older Australians at risk of or experiencing abuse can get help before it's too late," said network chief executive Craig Gear.

The network's Stay Connected and Supported in Your Community initiative offers a freecall service and website that brings community and support services to one place.

Find out more on 1800-001-321 or click HERE

Where to seek help

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing abuse, contact the national hotline Elderhelp, 1800-353-374, which will transfer you to the service in your state.

If you are in immediate danger, call triple zero (000).