Guidelines help frontline workers start conversations about elder abuse

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As our ageing population continues to grow, we need to understand how to talk with them and educate them about elder abuse. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • One in six older Australians living in their own homes experience abuse, often from their adult children and other family members, yet it is a form of abuse poorly understood in the community
  • Elder abuse is defined as a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, that occurs in a relationship with an older person where there is an expectation of trust and where that action causes harm or distress to the older person
  • The types of abuse older people experience include financial abuse, neglect, psychological abuse, social abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse

New guidelines have been launched to give frontline workers in Western Australia the skills to better communicate with older clients who are at risk of elder abuse and initiate a path to support.

Launched earlier this month at Parliament House by Minister for Seniors and Ageing Don Punch the interview guidelines are the first of their kind and respond to research that identified the need for interviewing guidelines to support professionals working with older people who have experienced or are at risk of elder abuse.

The guidelines were developed and created by researchers from the Social Ageing (SAGE) Futures Lab at Edith Cowan University (ECU) on behalf of the Older People’s Rights Service at Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre with support from the Western Australian Government Department of Communities.

ECU Research Fellow Doctor Catriona Stevens said the guide covered a range of interviewing best practice guidelines including working with complex life histories and family dynamics; ageism: recognising and addressing biases; interviewing diverse older adults; advance preparation for interviews; interview environments and arrangements; strategies and techniques; and closure, advice and follow-up action.

“When an older person at risk of harm is attending an interview, they may be experiencing one of the most difficult and traumatic points in their life,” she said. 

Despite elder abuse being a common problem, older people often don’t get the help they need as there is generally little public awareness about what elder abuse is and how to identify the warning signs.

Dr Stevens pointed out that older people were a rapidly growing part of our community and interactions with them were likely to become increasingly common for service providers such as legal and justice professionals, law enforcement, financial advisors and others.

“These new guidelines are unique because they specifically address older people’s communication needs, which are different to other people experiencing trauma […] They may be emotional or physical and they vary from person to person,” she explained. 

According to a report published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, older people are less likely to recognise abuse than younger people and are more likely to think that abusive behaviours are justified.

Vulnerability can also arise from personal characteristics such as disability, poor mental or physical health or from external factors such as housing insecurity or limited access to appropriate services.

Dr Stevens said older people living at home most commonly experience harm perpetrated by family or people in family-like relationships and said, “It’s therefore critically important to explore complex family dynamics and consider if and how they might contribute to risk.” 

To read more about the guidelines, visit the ECU website here

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