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Elder abuse ‘prevalent’

Coinciding with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the National Ageing Research Institute has called for elder abuse to be placed on the national agenda. 

According to clinical associate professor at NARI Briony Dow, Australia should take elder abuse more seriously, and put in place more effective ways to prevent, detect and manage the range of abusive situations experienced by older people.

“We don’t exactly know what the extent of the problem is here, what types of abuse are occurring, and therefore what should be done about it.

“Unlike the UK, we’ve carried out no national prevalence study of elder abuse despite the obvious benefits of knowing more about the size and nature of this type of abuse.”

Leanne Groombridge, acting chief executive officer of Advocacy Tasmania, agrees that this is fast becoming an increased concern – one that people are no longer prepared to hide behind closed doors.

In late 2012, the Tasmanian Elder Abuse Helpline – a Tasmanian government elder abuse prevention strategy – opened its lines to callers, followed shortly by a Tasmanian government initiative, the ‘Elder abuse is not ok’ advertising campaign.

To date the helpline has received 173 calls – 35 per cent of which have been calls made directly from older people who are experiencing abuse. Another 35 per cent of callers were family members reporting alleged abuse of relatives.

The remaining 30 per cent was made up of service providers and friends.

“Given the number of elder abuse reports that we have received, and taking into account those which our colleagues interstate also report, it is clear that elder abuse is a significant issue …

“There is outrage within communities that the elderly find themselves a victim of abuse at a time when they should be able to feel safe and enjoy the remainder of their lives,” she said.

Around 3 to 5 per cent of Tasmania’s elderly population experience some sort of elder abuse, a figure which Groombridge says will have a devastating effect both on individuals and community if not addressed adequately.

“The elderly are suffering and this is quite simply an intolerable situation.”

As government advertising campaigns, education for service providers and the elderly creates awareness, more pressure is being placed on authorities to have effective pathways in place to provide real assistance for those who are subject to abuse.

Describing elder abuse as sad reality, COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates called for a national zero tolerance approach to protect older Australians.

He said initiatives such as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day need to be matched by strong legislation and resources from Government.

“It is time for the federal government to step up and take a leadership role to get a consistent approach across all states and territories including legislation, resources and advocacy and support services.”

Dow suggests education and awareness for health professionals is also important, so they know what exactly to look out for.

“I think it’s really important that [health professionals] don’t feel like they need to deal with it on their own,” Dow explained.

“They need training and supervisory support from managers because these can often be very tricky when you have an older person who is living in a situation where they are at risk of experiencing abuse but they may not want to do anything about it.”

Michael Wynne, spokesperson on behalf of Aged Care Crisis Centre, agrees that with more aged citizens and greater stress on communities that this is becoming a more pertinent issue.

However, he believes elder abuse is more a reflection of the way the aged and their care is perceived in our culture.

“The critical consideration is to change the culture within management and the facilities from that of a competitive business seeking to maximise profits, to that of a caring community,” he said.

“Staff who entered the profession for altruistic reasons are disheartened and alienated by the pressure on them and the misdirected focus.

“There is too little positive cohesion and turnover of staff is too high. People who are likely to do these things are not identified and can get away with it.”

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