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Secrecy surrounds abuse of older people

Secrecy surrounds abuse of older people

Elder abuse and neglect need to be brought out into the open, Senior Citizens Minister Ruth Dyson said in Wellington today at a national forum called 'Unspinning the Web'.

"Most elder abuse occurs in families. The secrecy and shame that surrounds it - not least on the part of the person being abused - is perhaps the strongest thread in the web that needs to be unspun."

Ruth Dyson said international literature indicated that 3-5 per cent of older New Zealanders - between 13,000 and 22,000 people - are likely to experience physical, verbal, emotional or financial abuse.

The Ministry of Social Development is currently evaluating 22 elder abuse and neglect prevention services throughout the country, run by nine providers.

"The evaluation will show whether the approach developed in New Zealand is the most appropriate way of dealing with abuse, and how best to support services."

Ms Dyson said a number of changes in the health and disability sectors also had implications for older people and elder abuse prevention services, including:

• improved certification and accountability of rest homes under the Health and Disability Services (Safety) Act 2001;

• the ability for a more integrated local response to the needs of older people, following the transfer of disability support services funding for older people from the Ministry of Health to district health boards in October 2003; and

• the development of Primary Health Organisations, including low patient fees and $3 prescription charges for older people by the middle of next year.

Ruth Dyson said financial abuse was one of the hardest forms to deal with, largely because of the legal issues involved. She said she would lead a review next year of the legislative provisions of the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988 as they relate to the Enduring Power of Attorney.

"Enduring Power of Attorney is an important way for people to provide for advanced old age, when they may not be able to make decisions about their personal lives and finances. However, such an arrangement can be misused, and the well-being and finances of an older person put at risk. We can never remove the human element, but we can make sure we get the processes right."

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