New data released by UnitingCare has revealed a worrying 15.6% increase in elder abuse notifications in Queensland, with the record number of cases of abuse most commonly caused by family members.
Elder Abuse Statistics in Queensland: Year in Review 2021-22 featured data from the Queensland Government-funded Elder Abuse Prevention Unit (EAPU) Helpline, which received 3,841 calls across the 2021-22 financial year.
The findings show that many victims, including those in aged care or in the community, experienced psychological distress, deterioration in their health and wellbeing, plus negative financial consequences due to the abuse.
The two most common types of abuse were psychological (76.6%) and financial (62.1%), while other findings from the data revealed that:
General Manager of UnitingCare’s Wellbeing Services, Luke Lindsay, said it was particularly concerning to see that the number of elder abuse cases where victims and perpetrators live together has increased by almost 75% over the past four years.
“The tough economic climate and the housing crisis continue to present challenges for many people within the community, which unfortunately means that the drivers of increased cohabitation will likely continue in the short-term as more adult children move in with their parents,” said Mr Lindsay.
“Multi-generational living can be challenging and unfortunately relationships can break down, placing the older person at higher risk of distressing financial, psychological or even physical abuse.”
In many cases, family members misused their Enduring Power of Attorney or coerced their victims into paying their bills or gifting items.
Many victims also had their medical and nutritional needs neglected, while perpetrators regularly restricted their access to a phone or visitors.
Queensland Seniors Minister, Craig Crawford, acknowledged that while it is disappointing to see so many abuse cases involving family, the additional calls to EAPU show that more people have the confidence to speak up and report elder abuse from their loved ones.
“This latest report shows a spike in victims and perpetrators cohabitating as people move back home to live with elderly family,” said Mr Crawford.
“We know there are many reasons why cohabitation occurs, but it is vital our elders deserve to live safely, with dignity and respect.
“What we can take from the increase in reported cases is that our awareness campaigns are working. We are bringing the issue out of the shadows, letting people know there is help and support available and making access to that support possible.”
Reports of elder abuse have been on the rise nationally, with almost 40,000 serious incidents reported to the Government’s aged care watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS).
SIRS data closely matched elder abuse concerns with the quality of care in residential aged care as both highlighted ongoing issues with safety, the use of restraint and attention to personal needs.
Roughly 1-in-6 people aged 65 and older living within the community have reported a personal experience of elder abuse, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
This national data backs up UnitingCare’s research, reinforcing the need to address experiences of neglect, physical, financial, sexual and psychological abuse.
Almost 33% of cases reported to EAPU involved an element of ageism while perpetrators in 44% of cases believed they were entitled to an older relative’s assets.
Mr Lindsay said this points to the need for societal change to reduce the prevalence of abuse.
“The data shows that we need longer term solutions to this issue, a focus on supporting access to safe, accessible, and affordable housing for victims of elder abuse is needed,” said Mr Lindsay.
“This means tackling ageist attitudes, income inequity and the lack of access to aged care support.
“Our elderly community not only have the right to be safe and free from abuse, but they also deserve to be treated with dignity.”
Recommendations made to deliver a greater sense of safety include additional support to safe, accessible and affordable housing, as well as a greater focus on culturally appropriate services to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culturally and linguistically diverse populations.
Additional research was also recommended to address gaps in knowledge regarding barriers to change, motivational factors for perpetrators and the effectiveness of an evidence-based perpetrator program that could intervene and stop elder abuse early on.