At Feros Care, our primary focus is the happiness and wellbeing of older Australians. However, we are aware that in the wider community the issue of elder abuse exists. Elder abuse can come in many forms, from the physical or emotional, to neglect, sexual or financial.
With World Elder Abuse Awareness Day marked each year on 15 June, awareness is growing about the vulnerable position seniors may find themselves in. The World Health Organisation has defined 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”.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) report into elder abuse in 2016 said it was likely that 2-10% of older Australians are subject to abuse in any given year, “with the prevalence of neglect possibly higher”. And the perpetrators are often the ones closest to us.
With a fifth of the Australian population projected to be 65 years and over in 2050, in just over 30 years’ time, seniors over 85 will also represent about 5% of Australians. The AIFS said “the problem of elder abuse is of increasing concern as an unprecedented proportion of the population will be older”.
How can we better identify elder abuse and what can be done?
Abuse of older people can be hard to identify, lobby group National Seniors Australia said, and even harder to respond to.
“Shame, fear, social isolation, cognitive impairment, physical and emotional dependency, are all factors that might hold elderly people back from reporting abuse” according to NSA. But, cultural, Indigenous, LGBTQI, disabilities and living in a remote region can also play a part, it said.
Awareness and vigilance over the elderly and vulnerable are key. The AIFS report suggested the most elder abuse is perpetrated by family, often by adult children toward their parent/s. However, abuse is not always limited to relatives and can come from others within our sphere.
The Australian Law Reform Commission is currently reviewing Commonwealth laws to see how current legislation responds to elder abuse and how can they be improved to protect older Australians.
Definitions of abuse
Intentional use of force that results in injury, pain or impairment. Includes, striking, pinching, restraining, confining, or giving medication not needed or denying medication that is required.
Deliberately inflicting mental or psychological distress, whether verbal or non-verbal. It is designed to isolate, humiliate, threaten or otherwise control a person.
Failure to provide basic needs or to protect someone from harm. This may be intentional or unintentional. Depriving or withholding of food, water, hygiene, clothing or shelter or limited access to healthcare or health devices like dentures, glasses or hearing aids.
Any non-consensual sexual contact or behaviour. This includes lewd or inappropriate comments, touching (including through clothing), and forcing someone to view pornography or watch sexual acts.
Illegal or improper use of money, property, or assets for the benefit of someone else other than its owner. These acts include forgery, theft, coerced transactions of property or finances; denial of access to assets or improper use of power of attorney.
Where to get help
If you are worried that a senior you know may be being abused, or you are a victim of abuse, the Australian Government has a list of elder abuse support services in all states and territories that you can access at: aifs.gov.au/elder-abuse-support-services.