Elder Abuse

Once again we are in the lead up to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15 the date used globally to draw attention to the abuse and neglect of older people.

While the vast majority of people over the age of sixty live active, healthy and productive lives we must ensure that vulnerable older people in our community are afforded the protection, respect and support they deserve.

We are now in the position where every state and territory has developed elder abuse strategies, led campaigns to raise awareness, and provided education about elder abuse and its effects. Additionally all states have established an elder abuse helpline, and while these assist thousands of people annually, older people continue to suffer abuse in their own homes each year.

Despite a recent harrowing Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria and an Inquiry into Elder Abuse in New South Wales, we approach WEAAD 2017 without any new legislation available for the protection of older Australians.

There remains considerable work to do in this space, and while any effective response to elder abuse must be integrated across all agencies and legislative frameworks, our political leaders need to urgently enact legislative protection for our older citizens.

Too many relatives are frustrated and disappointed by the lack of justice and fairness around this problem. Abusing older people is a criminal act but unfortunately it is not covered by any law that would hold the perpetrators to account.

We cannot be certain how many older Australians are being bullied, abused and defrauded by their children and other family but the Institute of Family Studies suggests that a figure of 10% of is not unlikely with a higher number experiencing neglect.

Legislation can only work effectively when aligned with a planned and integrated program of social education to support cultural change. We have seen this approach work successfully in Australia, most recently in the long overdue action against family violence, and institutional child abuse, sadly elder abuse is still in the shadows hidden from public scrutiny.

Ageism is at the core of elder abuse and rests on a platform of disrespect and just like racism and sexism it allows human beings to be vilified, ridiculed, and devalued.

We now live in an era where social attitudes disproportionately value youth over age and where older people are portrayed as either irrelevant and out of touch or frail and senile and of no value. Try buying a birthday card for anyone over 40 and the words and phrases state clearly and loudly that it’s undesirable to get older, and what is a natural process for everyone is now seen as a social problem. Research backs this up with a paper in 2014 [1] that found 98% of Facebook group descriptions of older adults reflected negative stereotypes.

These stereotypes are now so embedded in society and social media that only a concerted national campaign that combines legislation with education can begin to stop the abuse and marginalisation of older people.

We would do well as a society to reflect on Gandhi’s adage: “The true measure of any society is how well it treats its most vulnerable.”

[1] (Levy et al.,2014a)

Elder abuse is a problem that affects around 154,000 older Australians. It may involve taking someone’s money or possessions, not providing necessary care, making threats or stopping an older person’s social contacts, physical or sexual abuse, and these usually occur at the hands of someone trusted.

As our population ages, the number of people affected will increase, so it’s more important than ever that we raise awareness of elder abuse and challenge negative attitudes towards ageing. Older people don’t have to put up with abuse and have the right to live with dignity and safety.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day activities are supported by the Tasmanian Government.

Join us on Thursday 15 June to take a stand against elder abuse:

Walk Against Elder Abuse 2017