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Raising awareness to prevent elder abuse

Addressing a room dressed in purple to raise awareness of elder abuse, Aged Care Complaints Commissioner Rae Lamb urged people to come forward if they have concerns about elder abuse.
Delegates dressed in purple and formed a purple ribbon at the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Conference in Adelaide last week
Delegates dressed in purple and formed a purple ribbon at the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Conference in Adelaide last week

“Speaking up promotes awareness,” Ms Lamb says, “and this is a really powerful weapon in the fight against elder abuse.

“If we can resolve issues for people receiving care, it will not only lead to better care for them and other vulnerable people, it will also inspire trust that speaking up is worthwhile.”

Speaking at the annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) Conference at the Adelaide Convention Centre last week, Ms Lamb was one of a number of experts sharing their knowledge on how organisations can work together to respond to elder abuse issues.

Hosted by Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS), the 11th annual conference focused on ‘Working together today…and every day’.

“It is by working together, collaborating and shining a light on elder abuse that we can change what is happening today and ensure that elder abuse does not flourish in the future,” says ARAS chief executive officer (CEO) Carolanne Barkla.

“There is no excuse for abuse.”

She says WEAAD on 15 June is “an opportunity to raise awareness of elder abuse and reinforcing how working together today and everyday can make a difference”.

At the conference delegates also heard from Professor Marie Beaulieu, Research chair on Mistreatment of Older Adults at the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, about The Bridging Project, a research project investigating collaborative approaches to counter elder abuse.

Andrew Larpent, CEO of Southern Cross Care and Chair of Dignity in Care Australia addressed the need for coordinated international action to ensure the basic rights of all vulnerable people are respected and upheld.

Associate Professor Linda Star discussed her research project that explored compulsory reporting of elder abuse in Government funded aged care facilities and the experiences of those involved.

She found people are reluctant to come forward and talk about their experiences and recommends more education and a national approach on the prevention of elder abuse.

The first step to a national approach is an inquiry into elder abuse by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), announced in recognition of WEAAD, which will be looking especially at financial institutions, superannuation, social security, living and care arrangements and health.

Ms Barkla welcomes the inquiry and says “It takes a systemic approach”.

“Various governments are doing things but it does need a national approach that brings all the different jurisdictions together to come up with a really good plan to address all the things that concern us.”

She says financial abuse is a significant issue, with ARAS seeing cases of misuse of power of attorney, selling of homes and not paying care fees.

Ms Barkla highlights that, in the new user-pays model for aged and residential care, people have to pay a significant amount of money for their accommodation.

“But what happens when an older person has been financially abused by someone they trust to look after their money and they don’t have appropriate funds to pay for their accommodation?” she asks.

“If you don’t have your own home or access to money to pay for accommodation, how do you actually live a safe life?

“People need to know that it’s not ok to accelerate your inheritance, it’s unacceptable to take money from someone who is entitled to use their own money to live the life they want. It’s not ok to leave someone without money to provide for basic things such as food and clothing.”

Ms Barkla says an extensive education campaign is needed to raise awareness in the fight against elder abuse.

“We’ve lost appreciation for older people. They’re still people and age shouldn’t matter. You still have the same rights and entitlements to live your life the way you want,” she continues.

“Ageism can make you invisible. By having WEAAD we hope to change that invisibility and make people aware of the rights of older people.”

The ALRC invites individuals and organisations to make a submission in response to the Issues Paper. Find out more on the ALRC website.

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