It has been branded the silent epidemic in our suburbs.
It’s hard to identify because it takes on many forms, made even harder to fathom by the simple fact that these crimes are usually committed by people who their elderly victims know, love and trust.
And that’s not ok.
June 15 marks the seventh annual, internationally recognised, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day - intended to shine the light on elder abuse and work towards a safer community for us all.
Speaking at the Seniors Rights Service seminar on Elderly Abuse on June 4, Aged Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Patterson AO explained that “Elder Abuse is indeed a human rights issue. People have a right to feel and be safe. Yet between 2-10% of elderly people experience some form of elder abuse”.
Sadly, in NSW alone, this translates to more than 400,000 victims annually.
Victims like Valerie*, an independently mobile centenarian, who as a creature of habit would visit the same coffee shop, sit in the same chair and order the same coffee every week.
Every week she was served by the same waitress and they developed a lovely rapport.
Valerie used tap and go technology to pay for her coffee every visit and unbeknownst to her she was being charged $50 for every single coffee week after week for months on end.
Whilst Valerie was eventually reimbursed for the financial abuse (and she thankfully found a new coffee shop), not all elderly abuse stories have such a happy ending.
Like Harry*, an elderly man who was frail and alone after losing his wife.
Harry’s neighbour was aware of Harry’s isolation and began coming around to involve himself in Harry’s affairs, which then enabled him to gain power of attorney.
It was only when Harry’s friends noticed a “For Sale” sign on the property, that they realised they hadn’t seen him for a long time and asked the police to do a welfare check.
The police found Harry emaciated in bed and he sadly passed away in hospital five days later.
There are countless stories like these and one thing is abundantly clear – our elderly are not always living in safety or being treated with the respect they deserve.
Here on the Mid-North Coast, Mayor Peta Pinson is passionate about protecting our elderly.
With a whopping 38.6% of the Mid-North Coast’s population aged 65 plus, well above the state average, it’s not hard to understand why the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council have begun work on a Community Inclusive project – looking at the trends of residents to ensure a connected, engaged, livable community – free from abuse.
Megan Lawrance is the General Manager of Clinical Innovation at Bundaleer Care Services in Wauchope and in her experience, she has found that Elder Abuse is often not reported because, sadly, family are usually the perpetrators.
“Victims are often confused by what they are experiencing, trying to understand the actions of those they love. People also feel embarrassed or ashamed about what is happening to them.”
What’s important is that people understand their rights, both to control their own money and to feel safe.Megan Lawrance, Bundaleer Care Services
Elder abuse can take many forms, and there are often some warning signs:
Signs of emotional abuse: Threatening, or controlling behaviour by a friend/family member that you witness.
Signs of financial abuse: Items or cash missing, suspicious changes in wills, unpaid bills when there should be sufficient funds, or unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions arriving.
Signs of neglect: Unexplained weight loss, untreated medical concerns, unsafe or unsanitary living conditions.
Signs of physical abuse: Unexplained injury such as bruises or scars, signs of being restrained, reported drug overdoses, broken spectacles.
Signs of sexual abuse: Bruising or bleeding around genital areas, torn or bloody underwear, unexplained STDs or infections.
Signs of social abuse: Preventing contact with friends or family, withholding of mail, phone services are unexpectedly disconnected.
Elder abuse is often hidden, confusing and difficult to recognise.
An older person may not identify what’s happening to them as abuse or may cover up the signs due to fear of discovery.
Patterns of abuse may develop over time, starting with smaller events which can often be dismissed, and increasing in severity.
Sometimes abuse occurs through the perpetrator’s own frustration, ignorance, or inability to cope with the older person’s needs.
The important things to remember are: that there is never any excuse for abuse; and there are people you can turn to for help.
Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 reminds us that every older person has a wealth of lived experience to share, that they should have the choice to be active participants and feel safe within their community.
In turn, we owe it to them to show our shared respect, value and support for our older family and friends.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse please call the NSW Elder Abuse Helpline on 1800 628 221.
They will provide you with information, support and referrals. The service is confidential and callers can remain anonymous.
Anyone can make the call or visit www.elderabusehelpline.com.au.
* Names have been changed to protect identities.