Elder abuse takes many forms

By Ian Henschke, National Seniors Chief Advocate            

Have you ever asked yourself what constitutes elder abuse? Could it be an adult daughter or son who “encourages” their aged parent to move out of their home for their “own good”, then promptly moves in themselves – or sells the property and pockets the money? 

This is now called inheritance impatience! 

Could it be an aged care facility that delivers meals and drinks but doesn’t check whether they’ve been consumed?

Is it leaving someone alone with no social contact? It’s estimated up to half the people in nursing homes don’t have visitors from one month to the next – sometimes from one year to the next. 

I think we’ve all heard the various news reports about horrific cases of abuse at places like South Australia’s Oakden, but what about the less obvious? 

I recently went to an event where a daughter told how her father nearly died after being malnourished and dehydrated in such a “facility”.

I particularly dislike the term “facility” because it sounds like industrialised care, which is a contradiction in terms.

She ended up paying a private carer to be there with her father when she was not around. In her words, “low level” elder abuse was happening every day. 

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was officially recognised by the United Nations in 2011. It defines elder abuse as any act that causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust, such as a family member or friend. The abuse may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual and can include mistreatment and neglect.

I was proud to represent National Seniors at the 5th National Elder Abuse Conference in Sydney in February this year. At that conference, the message was this problem is growing and must be tackled with a united approach. 

The conference formulated a national plan to combat elder abuse.

It should not become a political issue. Elder abuse is a human rights issue. And the good news is more individuals and groups are working to solve the problem. 

We know elder abuse is a big concern to you, our members, and we are working to fight it. 

If you have concerns, don’t be afraid of reporting or discussing them. Elder abuse hotlines are available and money at both state and federal level has been allocated to tackle the problem. 

A good place to start is this website.

If you’re frightened about financial abuse, talk to your bank or financial institution about what you can do to protect yourself. 

At the National Elder Abuse Conference, we heard how banks are training staff to help them pick up the signals of financial abuse, but because so much transacting is now done on line it is that much harder.

About five per cent of older Australians are subjected to financial abuse.

In conjunction with the Australian Banking Association (ABA), the Commonwealth Bank has developed an Elder Abuse Toolkit. The tools include a way to track spending that will help identify if someone is taking money from you without your permission. 

Other steps include blocking international transfers and putting limits on the amounts that can be transferred to other accounts.

It also offers access to free software for six months to clean out your computer.

Last week, National Seniors joined forces with the Australian Banking Association, the Council on the Ageing and Legal Aid to tackle financial elder abuse.

We called for an online register of power of attorney orders, and a dedicated body to crack down on financial abuse of the elderly, along with standardised power-of-attorney laws across Australia.

National Seniors was a signatory to a joint letter sent to every state and federal attorney-general calling on them to take decisive action at the COAG meeting on Friday.

The agreement by the nation’s top lawmakers to identify options to standardise power of attorney orders across the country was a significant step in tackling the issue of elder financial abuse, however, much more work remains to be done.

One of the biggest steps in solving a problem like elder abuse (in its many forms) is to be aware of the problem. We’re making headway in that regard, and National Seniors will be doing everything it can to ensure tangible solutions are found.

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