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Aged Care Commissioner needed to protect the elderly

Media release from NZ Aged Care Association

Aged Care Commissioner needed to protect the elderly

Embargoed Until 6am Monday 21 October

Grey Power & NZ Aged Care Association

Grey Power and the New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) are calling on the Government and all political parties to appoint an Aged Care Commissioner to help protect the elderly from financial abuse.

The two organisations have today released a discussion document to highlight the issue of financial abuse and spark debate on options to stamp it out.

“The number of cases where elderly people have been financially abused by the very person who is meant to be acting in their best interests is unfortunate. There is no one agency responsible for looking into these cases or with the power to resolve them,” said Roy Reid President of Grey Power.

An Aged Care Commissioner should have the powers to receive complaints on financial abuse, investigate them, and if required take legal action through the courts.

The New Zealand Aged Care Association has been working with Grey Power on ways to help protect the elderly.

“With sad regularity my members come to me with situations where they know their residents are being financially abused by the person who holds the Enduring Powers of Attorney. But there is nothing they can do other than raise it with the perpetrator or possibly take it through the courts at great expense in time and money,” said Martin Taylor, NZACA Chief Executive.

Financial Elder abuse can take many forms. It might be someone having their superannuation stolen or their house being sold with the proceeds being taken by someone with EPOA. Or it could be a lawyer charging high fees to manage someone’s affairs through to having a credit card used without the elderly person’s knowledge.

Each year, Age Concern’s Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Service (EANPS) receives over 1,000 referrals about people who may be facing elder abuse or neglect.[1] This is about four referrals every day.

“As the number of elderly people is increasing, the cases of elder abuse will rise. We cannot just sit back and hope the situation will go away, we must do something to protect the most vulnerable elderly people” Mr Reid says.

Both Grey Power and NZACA will be asking all parties to consider establishing an Aged Care Commissioner with sufficient powers to address the issue of financial elder abuse.

Questions and Answers

How big is the problem?

Each year, Age Concern’s Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Service (EANPS) received over 1,000 referrals about people who may be facing elder abuse or neglect.[2] This is about 4 referrals every day.

We also know that reported abuse does not reflect the whole size of the problem. International research shows that only a small proportion of the elder abuse incidents come to the attention of an agency that can be of assistance.[3] In the UK it is reported that 2.6% of older people experience abuse each year.[4] In New Zealand this would equate to approximately 50 people per day.

What Types of Abuse Occur?

The major types of abuse recognised in our society are:

Psychological Abuse, which accounts for 62% of cases

Material Financial Abuse, which accounts for 50% of cases

Physical Abuse, which accounts for 20% of cases

Neglect, which accounts for 20% of cases

While significant attention is paid to physical abuse, a review of the literature shows that many people experience multiple types of abuse.

It appears that financial abuse is the second most frequently reported form of abuse, with up to 50% of cases involving financial abuse, either as the main form of abuse or occurring with another form of abuse.

In addition the statistics from an analysis of the abuse cases make sobering reading. This reveals that:

Where financial abuse is the main form of abuse, over half these cases (54%) also include psychological abuse.

Where psychological abuse was identified as the main form of abuse, 31% of these cases also included financial abuse.

Where physical abuse was identified as the main form of abuse, 22% also included financial abuse.

Where active neglect was identified as the main form of abuse, 11% also included financial abuse.[5]

This would suggest that a strategy of tackling financial abuse, particularly abuse by someone who holds an EPOA, could assist in addressing other forms of abuse.

Who is being abused?

Recent research by Age Concern identifies which groups of older people are being abused. It notes that:

Two thirds are women

40% live alone

80% of abuse is committed by members of family or whanau

Over 40% of abusers are adult children

Up to 35% of abusers are primary care givers, including community and care

Age Concern state that two out of every five people abused experience a significant reduction in their independence, loss of confidence and self-esteem. Victims of abuse feel very frightened or anxious and emotionally distressed. In turn, this diminishes health and wellbeing.

Residential aged care providers by definition care for vulnerable people. They often become aware of abuse particularly by relatives. Given their primary role is to protect and support their residents, they are naturally concerned if there are inadequate mechanisms to investigate abuse when it is observed.

Is the problem growing?

Recent historical information in the table below shows a gradual rise in the total reported cases of abuse, and notably there was a significant jump in the reported cases of financial abuse around 2008/2009 during the recession.

As the New Zealand population ages, the problem of elder abuse will continue to grow significantly. As highlighted in the Age Residential Care Services Review in 2010, the population over 65 years is estimated to increase by 84% from 512,000 to 944,000 in 2026.[6] Particularly important is the growth in people aged 85 or over, as this group is likely to be less independent and therefore more vulnerable. The report highlights that between 2006 and 2026, this population will to more than double, from 58,000 to 116,500.[7]

Compounding this issue is the increased prevalence of dementia. Loss of cognitive function leads to greater vulnerability as people age, and consequently their increased reliance on others to manage their affairs. An Australian report on the Review of Aged Care projected that the prevalence of dementia doubles every five years after age 65. At ages 60-64 the prevalence of dementia is just 0.6% for women and 1.2% for men. By the age of 90 the prevalence is 35% for women, and 32.6% for men.[8]

Our Solution

An Aged Care Commissioner with the responsibility for investigation complaints of financial abuse and taking prosecuting through court to remedy the situation.

[1] Age Concern New Zealand, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, 15 June 2012

[2] Age Concern New Zealand, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, 15 June 2012

[3] National Centre on Elder Abuse USA, Iceberg Theory of Elder Abuse: The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study, 1998

[4] National Centre for Social Research, Kings College London, UK Study of Abuse and Neglect of Older People: Prevalence Survey Report, 2007

[5] Davey J, and McKendry J, Financial Abuse of Older People in New Zealand, A Working Paper, November 2011, p8

[6] Grant Thornton, Age Residential Care Review, 2010, P78. Based on 2006 data.

[7] Ibid

[8] Alzheimer’s New Zealand, Dementia Economic Impact Report, 2008, p9

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