Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. June 15 has been designated by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, as a day to raise awareness of the need to protect older people from abuse.
Elder abuse is an important human rights issue yet little is known of its extent, it is under-reported. Not surprising as elders feel vulnerable, are dependent and likely do not have the capacity to do so, or if they did, know to whom to report it. Aging is a time of increasing vulnerability, of varying dependence on others for support of different kinds, depending on individual circumstances. Everyone is entitled to a life of dignity and safety in their old age, free of abuse and exploitation.
Elder abuse can take different forms and occur in different settings. It can be subtle, coercive or direct, involving physical harm, psychological abuse, financial and material exploitation. In its Report on Elder Abuse released May 2017, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) described what is elder abuse. The Report summarises types of elder abuse as including:
- Psychological or emotional, verbal abuse, harassment, name-calling, threatening to put the person in a home, threats of withdrawing emotional support;
- Financial abuse, including abuses of powers of attorney; living with the elderly person in their home without contributing to maintenance and other expenses;
- Physical abuse;
- Neglect – not providing food, medical and other care, the necessities of life;
- Sexual abuse.
While existing laws seek to safeguard and protect older people from abuse by formal, informal carers, supporters and others, the Attorney-General noted in his directions to the ALRC that these laws should include regulation of financial institutions, superannuation, social security, living and care arrangements and health. Furthermore consideration should be given to the interaction of these laws with state and territory laws.
The ALRC summarised its recommendations as being directed to safeguard older people from abuse and to support the choices and wishes of older people through:
- improved responses to elder abuse in residential aged care;
- enhanced employment screening of care workers;
- greater scrutiny regarding the use of restrictive practices in aged care;
- building trust and confidence in enduring documents as important advanced planning tools;
- protecting older people when ‘assets for care’ arrangements go wrong;
- banks and financial institutions protecting vulnerable customers from abuse;
- better succession planning across the self-managed superannuation sector;
- adult safeguarding regimes protecting and supporting at-risk adults.
Where can someone go for more information, assistance?
In Queensland, the Queensland Government provides information on Elder Abuse and how to get help for seniors.
In NSW the NSW Government provides an Elder Abuse helpline and Resource Unit. In addition the Seniors Rights Service, click here, provides a helpline, advocacy and information.
In Victoria, information on elder abuse can be found on the Seniors Rights Victoria site. here.
In South Australia, the Aged Rights Advocacy Service has information on elder abuse.
In Tasmania there is an Elder Abuse Helpline provided by the Dept of Health and Human Services.
In Western Australia the Dept of Local Govt and Communities has information on stopping elder abuse.
An enduring power of attorney is an important legal document one can make for the future in the event of loss of capacity. However it is important to review its contents from time to time, in light of individual circumstances, as to whether it reflects one’s wishes, should capacity be lost. Some considerations when making an enduring power of attorney are highlighted here.
Updated 15 November 2017
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