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Elder Abuse - a hidden problem we must address

10th June 2019

As we approach World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15th Age Concern Auckland’s CEO, Kevin Lamb is calling for all Aucklanders to take a stand and speak out against this frequently hidden problem. Kevin Lamb says, “An analysis of data from the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Aging concluded that 10 per cent of the population aged over 65 experience some form of elder abuse. However, it is estimated that 3 out of 4 cases are unreported, meaning there is no opportunity for an agency like Age Concern to intervene and address the problem. That’s not good enough and it is something that must change.”

The theme of this year’s Elder Abuse Awareness Week is ‘It’s ok to ask for help” and aims to encourage everyone to speak out if they are concerned about elder abuse. Elder Abuse and Neglect is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.[1]

Elder abuse can be physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and/or financial in nature. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect. Elder abuse cuts across gender and occurs irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or income.

Last year Age Concern’s elder abuse services across New Zealand received 2,260 referrals – that’s nine referrals every working day. Two thirds of these were confirmed to involve elder abuse or neglect, and the majority of cases involved more than one type of abuse. Of these cases:

• 78% included psychological abuse
• 49% involved financial abuse
• 18% involved physical abuse
• 18% included neglect
• 18% involved self-neglect

Equally as concerning is that 80% of the alleged abusers are family members, with 54% being adult children or grandchildren of the victim. Kevin Lamb says, “The fact that so many of the abusers are family members contributes to the underreporting because there is a fear with older people that if they speak-out they will lose the only social support network they have. However, Age Concern can work with the older people to retain that relationship if that’s what they want, so people shouldn’t be afraid to speak up.”

Age Concern Auckland recently worked with 74 year old Mollie* and her family to address the abuse she was experiencing. Mollie shares her house with her son Robert*. Robert was on home detention for breaching a protection order condition against his former partner. Robert frequently psychologically abused Mollie, telling her she was useless and controlling her behaviour. Age Concern Auckland was contacted by Mollie’s daughter Sarah* who was very concerned about Mollie’s safety and wellbeing but whom had been unable to resolve her concerns directly with her brother .

In the initial phone conversation with Sarah, Age Concern checked on Mollie’s immediate safety and shared some strategies with Sarah so she could help Mollie herself and explained they would need Mollie’s consent before speaking to her. A few days later, Sarah phoned saying that Mollie had agreed to be supported by Age Concern. During their meeting with Mollie, she expressed her relief at talking to Age Concern about her worries. They talked to Mollie about her rights and developed a safety plan and action plan with her, which made her feel safe and confident to deal with her son’s behaviour.

Age Concern also spoke to a probation officer to get more information about what Mollie could do if Robert was abusive and breached his probation conditions. This information was provided to Mollie and Sarah. Mollie also told Robert about Age Concern’s involvement and he has since changed his behaviour towards his mum.

Kevin Lamb says, “Mollie’s case illustrates how speaking out about elder abuse usually has a positive resolution. It empowers the older person and ensures they know where they can go for support. Initially it can be a very sensitive and distressing matter to speak openly about but we encourage everyone in the community to be aware of the risk factors and speak out if they are concerned about elder abuse. You can speak confidentially to one of the Elder Abuse Team at Age Concern Auckland by calling us on 09 820 0184.”

Elder Abuse Awareness Week runs from 15-22 June 2019.

Notes to Editors:
• Age Concern Auckland CEO, Kevin Lamb, is available for comment.
• Elder Abuse Awareness Week graphics are available for use

2 Ministry of Health & Age Concern New Zealand,Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Elder Abuse and Neglect, 2007, p 14.

Key information about elder abuse
• Age Concern Auckland provides a free, confidential, specialist Elder Abuse and Neglect Service and can be contacted on 09 820 0184
• Age Concern Auckland works with other agencies such as health services, needs assessment services, the police, and banks to ensure the best possible outcome for the older person.
• We all need to take a more active role in supporting the well-being of older people – and to treat them with respect.

What are the effects of elder abuse?
Abuse can reduce a person’s independence by undermining their self-esteem and confidence. It also damages family/whānau relationships, financial security, and mental and physical health, increasing dependency on health and support agencies which may result in the need for residential care. [2]

Some of the reasons why an older person/kaumātua does not tell anyone about the abuse are:
• They depend on the abuser for support
• They have low self-confidence and self-esteem
• They don’t want to make a fuss
• They are afraid that if they complain the abuse will get worse
• They are isolated, so that it is difficult for them to tell anyone
• They do not know who to tell or how to get help
• They have dementia or an illness that prevents them from telling anyone
• They blame themselves for the abuse
• They are ashamed that the abuser is a family/whānau member

The following signs MAY indicate an older person/kaumātua is being abused:
• unexplained behaviour, sleeping or eating habits
• fearfulness and edginess
• confusion
• unexplained injuries
• drowsiness (due to over-medication)
• recoiling from touch
• unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
• unpaid bills, lack of money for necessities

[1] Definition adopted from WHO Toronto Declaration on the Global Prevention of Elder Abuse, 2002


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