The United Nations has designated 15 June World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. On this day each year, communities all over the globe take a stand against the abuse of older people.
While the vast majority of people over 60 live active, healthy and productive lives, we must ensure that vulnerable older people are protected, respected and supported.
Elder abuse may involve physical or sexual abuse, taking an older person’s money or possessions, neglecting them, making threats or stopping their social contacts. It happens at the hands of an adult child or someone the older person trusts, and it often occurs in the family home.
Every state and territory in Australia has developed elder abuse strategies, led campaigns to raise awareness, and provided education about elder abuse and its effects. All states have also established an elder abuse helpline. Even so, older people continue to be abused.
We cannot be certain how many older Australians are being bullied, hurt, neglected or defrauded, but the Institute of Family Studies suggests it could be as many as 10%.
In February 2018 the Australian Attorney-General announced that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) would develop a National Plan to combat elder abuse.
This is very welcome. However, legislative and legal responses to elder abuse will only work if they are aligned with a planned and integrated program of public education that supports cultural change.
Ageism is at the core of elder abuse
We live in an era that values youth over age. Ageism normalises disrespect and paternalism towards older people, and these are the seeds of elder abuse.
Too often, older people are portrayed as either irrelevant and out of touch, or frail, forgetful and worthless.
Research published in 2014 (Levy et al., 2014) found 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.
This approach has proved successful in response to family violence and institutional child abuse in Australia. Sadly elder abuse is still largely hidden.
As our population ages, the number of people affected by elder abuse will increase, so it’s more important than ever that we raise awareness 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 in 2018 are supported by the Tasmanian Government, the City of Launceston, the City of Hobart and Mathers House.
Join us on Friday 15 June as concerned Tasmanians Walk Against Elder Abuse in Hobart and Launceston.