World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

15 June 2017 was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day — a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness on the potential mistreatment and abuse inflicted on members of the elder community.

As the number of older persons continues to steadily increase among the Australian population, so does the risk of elder abuse.

What is elder abuse?

The World Health Organisation defines elder abuse 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 take various forms such as physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse.”

World Health Organisation (WHO – 2002)

It is apparent therefore that elder abuse can take a number of forms and is not just limited to financial or psychological abuse.

How common is elder abuse?

Various studies (primarily conducted in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales and which were based mostly on anecdotal evidence) suggest that it is more common than we realise.

The available evidence suggests that prevalence of elder abuse varies across different types with physiological and financial abuse being the most commonly reported types of abuse recorded. Women are more susceptible to elder abuse than men. There has been no reported study conducted in the ACT on elder abuse to date.

On an international level, the United Nations estimates that based on the available information, 5 to 10 per cent of the elderly population may experience some kind of financial exploitation.

Signs of Elder Abuse

Very broadly, some warning signs of elder abuse might include the following:

  • Control of access to bank accounts and other household money;
  • Denying access to internet, phone or transport or withholding mail;
  • Denying access to other family members or support persons;
  • Moving into the home of an older person (with or without consent) and failing to contribute to household costs;
  • Coercing or influencing the older person to sign paperwork including loan documentation, Wills, Loan Agreements and Powers of Attorney;
  • Neglect or not giving the person the care and medical attention they require;
  • Using a power of attorney of an older person inappropriately.

Part of raising awareness of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day includes understanding and being able to recognise the signs of Elder Abuse.

What is being done about Elder Abuse Australia Wide?

Early last year, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) launched a national inquiry and on Thursday 15 June 2017 (to coincide with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day) released its final report on the topic.

In its report, the ALRC has urged the Federal Government to seize a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to stop the financial and physical abuse of the elderly. The report contains 43 recommendations for the Attorney-General, George Brandis, to consider. The recommendations include:

  • proposing an incident response scheme, requiring aged care providers to report allegations of physical, sexual, and financial elder abuse to an independent oversight body
  • putting in place guidelines for financial institutions (including amending the Code of Banking Practice) to ensure banks take reasonable steps to prevent the financial abuse of vulnerable customers
  • putting in place a national register of enduring powers of attorney to prevent abuse of the document

What can you do to prevent Elder Abuse?

Be aware, raise awareness and know how to recognise (and when to report) Elder Abuse

Recognise the warning signs in the older person, in the caregiver, in the home and among family. The majority of abusers are those in close contact with the older person and usually family. Of family member abuses, about 50% are reported to be adult children and 20% to be intimate partners of the older person. As mentioned above, the data indicates that women are more susceptible to elder abuse than men.