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Understanding and ending the abuse of older people

This years World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, held on June 15th, is focussed on raising awareness and understanding of the financial abuse of older people.

Organisations around the country will be holding community awareness events about elder abuse in 2017 (Source: Shutterstock)
Organisations around the country will be holding community awareness events about elder abuse in 2017 (Source: Shutterstock)

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was first recognised by the United Nations in 2011, as a day of international opposition to the abuse of older generations.

The World Health Organisation define 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 may be physical, social, psychological or sexual, but financial abuse is the most common, accounting for well over half of all cases in Australia.

A report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies last year estimated that between 2 and 10 percent of older Australians experience abuse in any given year, but noted that the issue is highly under reported, and the prevalence of neglect is likely even higher.

The Western Australian advocacy group Advocare estimates that one in twenty older Western Australians experience abuse, and the Victorian Police reported in 2016 that people aged 60 years or over made up just over 5,400 of the family members affected in family violence incidents.

Elder abuse and neglect usually occurs within families, most often by adult children, but other perpetrators may include, friends, neighbours, in-law children, care workers and even spouses.

"Older people are an essential strand in the fabric of our society. It’s time for us to acknowledge their importance and recognise they are entitled to the respect of their communities and especially their families," says Jenny Blakey, Manager of Seniors Rights Victoria.

"Just as respectful relationships within families help prevent family violence, respect for older family members is a primary protection against elder abuse."

Financial abuse is the illegal or inappropriate use of an older person’s finances or property by a trusted person, and often occurs alongside psychological or social abuse, including isolation.

Common examples include managing the funds of a competent older person without permission, theft, denial to access funds, forcing or forging a signature, and pressuring the older person to save money to be passed on to beneficiaries after death.

Ms Blakey says most elder abuse, like other forms of abuse, occurs “behind closed doors,” so understanding the warning signs and risks of abuse is critical.

Those signs include fearfulness, anxiety, or isolation on the part of the older person, or unexplained injuries and absence of personal care. Signs of financial abuse may be even harder to spot, but Seniors Rights Victoria say to watch out for disappearing possessions, unexplained or frequent changes to a will or property title, and unexplained bank transactions or withdrawals.

Older people can reduce the risk of elder abuse by making sure their financial, medical, legal and other affairs are in order. 

Organisations around the country will be holding community awareness events about elder abuse in 2017. Aged Rights Advocacy Service in South Australia is holding it's annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) Conference on Friday 16 June 2017 in Adelaide. 

The event is focussing on changes to the legal system and responses to the inquiries of elder abuse from both state and federal governments that will impact the way practitioners respond to elder abuse. Find out more or register to attend.

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