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No excuse for elder abuse

Today, 15 June, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), which aims to bring awareness about the prevalence and prevention of elder abuse as well as highlighting the rights of older people around the globe. 

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Peak bodies and advocacy groups are encouraging all people to learn how to recognise elder abuse on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. [Source: Shutterstock]

A number of Australian older persons' peak bodies and advocacy groups are putting the spotlight on elder abuse through a few different campaigns and events.

Elder Abuse is an act towards an older person that will cause harm and is carried out by someone they know, like a family member or friend. Abuse that falls under elder abuse includes physical, social, financial, psychological, sexual, mistreatment, and neglect.

Seniors Rights Victoria is urging all Victorians to accept that 'Elder abuse is everybody's business'. The advocacy and information service encourages people to hold a Stir a Cuppa for Seniors event in their local community, which aims to bring Victorians together to talk about elder abuse. A range of local events, including seminars and special morning teas, are listed on the Senior Rights Website.

Manager at Seniors Rights Victoria, Rebecca Edwards, says that these events are pivotal to unpacking the difficult topic with older Victorians.

"Conversations tend to start organically and robustly around a cuppa and we want to nurture that notion when it comes to the issues around elder abuse," explains Ms Edwards.

Kay Patterson, the Age Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, launched a special campaign for WEAAD called 'Inheritance: Not an entitlement' with the Respecting Seniors Network which focuses on ageism as a driver for elder abuse.

"Elder abuse can start with 'benevolent ageism'; where attitudes tip the scales towards protection and away from respect for an older person's independence and autonomy. When taken to an extreme, these attitudes can result in elder abuse, leading to real harm to the older person," explains Commissioner Patterson.

"Ageism undermines the human rights of older Australians and is an obstacle to achieving a fair and equal society which respects and recognises the inherent rights of everyone.

"This idea of counteracting ageism and promoting respect for seniors similarly drives the work of the Respecting Seniors Network and is a key part of their strategy for preventing elder abuse in the community."

The campaign includes seven short film clips, exploring the issue of inheritance impatience or entitlement that often leads to financial elder abuse.

It aims to increase understanding of financial abuse, one of the most common forms of elder abuse, and the issue of inheritance impatience and entitlement as well as increase awareness of elder abuse as a form of family violence.

You can view the film campaign by the Respecting Seniors Network here.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn has used WEAAD as an opportunity to call for the creation of a national register for Powers Of Attorneys (POAs) to help protect older Australians against elder abuse.

While the law firm thinks a register is important, Principal of Wills and Estates Practice at Maurice Blackburn, Andrew Simpson, says that a register alone won't prevent all abuse associated with POAs, and that there needs to be broader law reform to protect the elderly.

"If you lose capacity, the person who holds your Power Of Attorney will have complete control over all decisions relating to you and your affairs," says Mr Simpson.

"By their very nature, a Power Of Attorney bestows enormous power on the attorney, and unfortunately this power is sometimes abused."

Currently, the Federal Attorney-General's Department is undertaking public consultations until 30 June on designing a mandatory national POA registration scheme.

Mr Simpson adds that improving the current POA system is necessary considering the growing ageing population in Australia.

"People are living longer and dementia is now the second biggest cause of death in Australia behind heart disease," explains Mr Simpson.

"This means the need for substitute decision makers will become increasingly important in the coming years as the baby boomers age and decline."

Mr Simpson says that the increased transparency that comes from a national register will act as a deterrent to many potential abusers.

Dementia Australia is also calling for Australians to do their part to stop elder abuse by encouraging all to understand and recognise the different forms that elder abuse comes in, and to be on alert for vulnerable older people, including people living with dementia.

Chief Executive Officer of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe AM, says that elder abuse is a serious issue and people need to make sure their older loved ones with dementia are safe.

"People living with dementia are at increased risk of elder abuse because they are a vulnerable population group," says Ms McCabe.

"With the prevalence of dementia rising exponentially, the risk of being impacted by elder abuse is an increasing concern. It is critical that effective safeguards are in place, across all States and Territories, to protect people living with dementia from elder abuse.

"Often older people living with dementia, as with others who are abused, will not necessarily tell people what is happening and for some, cognitive decline can impair their ability to not only raise the issue but also to recall the details of what happened. On occasions when issues or complaints are raised by a person living with dementia, they are not taken seriously because of their dementia."

Ms McCabe adds that there is an obligation for all levels of Government, the disability, health and aged care sectors, and their workforce, to ensure people living with dementia are protected and treated with the same dignity, respect and rights as everyone else.

If you notice or suspect an older person has become a victim of elder abuse, contact the Elder Abuse Prevention Phone Line on 1800 353 374 to access the right service in your State or Territory.

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