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Protecting older people from abuse and neglect

Media release

Protecting older people from abuse and neglect

A Families Commission study suggests that older people are less likely to be abused or neglected if they understand their rights, have a strong sense of their self worth and positive relationships with their families.

The study, Elder Abuse and Neglect – exploration of risk and protective factors has found that isolation, poor mental or physical health and stressed families can all contribute to elder abuse and neglect. Other risk factors include family members with mental health or substance abuse issues, and greed.

One over-70 year old said “My son has a short fuse and gets angry, but it’s unpredictable and I live in fear.”

On the other hand, older people who are well informed of their rights, confident and assertive with good family and community support systems appear to be better protected against maltreatment.

One elderly woman told the researchers, “In the end, being stubborn and single-minded has helped me cope with the abusive situation. I wish I had learnt this much earlier.”

This report gathers the views of a wide range of different organisations, individuals and experts on how and why elder abuse and neglect occurs and what can be done to prevent it. It included interviews with 15 older people who had been abused and 22 who had not.

Researcher Kathy Peri says “As with other family violence the behaviour includes psychological, physical, sexual abuse as well as financial betrayal. Most people in this study who had been abused were left absolutely devastated – and their situation was even more intolerable if they were still living with those who had abused them.”

The study also looked at risk factors associated with residential care and found that older people living in institutions with efficient and effective regulatory monitoring systems and policies, with well trained and well paid staff, were less likely to be neglected.

One comment from a residential carer: “Sometimes there is understaffing so I cannot give really proper caring. There is one nurse for 20 residents. We can not handle them as we would like. We just give them the pills.”

Chief Commissioner of the Families Commission Rajen Prasad says “Our conversations with families and those who work with them have highlighted concerns about elder abuse and neglect. There has been limited research on this issue in New Zealand and the Commission is taking a systematic approach to finding out more about the experiences of older people.

This study, and another that looked at social and family connections of older people, show how important it is for society to support and value the role of older people.

He says the findings from both studies will be useful to organisations that provide services and support to older people. We will also work with other agencies to help raise awareness of the value of older people and the need for information and resources that empower people to speak out and seek help and support.

This latest report also draws attention to the need for better funding for services that respond to elder abuse and neglect. “It also helps us to better understand this aspect of family violence and will be useful in the further development of the Campaign for Action Against Family Violence,” he said.


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