How can we fix this? 1 in 6 experienced elder abuse in the past year

Elderly woman portrait

On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is marked annually on 15 June, Claudia Mahler, the United Nations’ independent expert on the human rights of older persons, issued a statement noting, “Lockdown measures resulted in increases in … higher risks of violence, abuse and neglect of older persons.”

About one in six people aged 60 years and older experienced some form of abuse in community settings during the past year, according to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Distressing” reports from aged care homes all over the world revealed neglect, isolation and a lack of appropriate services for older people, Mahler said. 

Compounding the difficulties, those seeking redress for mistreatment often faced barriers. 

Some care homes were even given immunity from civil liability for COVID-19 related deaths, or denied residents and their families the right to file legal cases against aged care homes. 

“These developments undermine older persons’ access to justice and to an effective remedy,” Mahler said.

Entrenched ageist attitudes further hinder older persons from claiming their rights and undermine their autonomy to make their own choices and decisions, she said.

Mahler says not enough information has been collected about the extent of the problem, limiting the possibilities for analysis.

Elder abuse is “vastly under reported”, Mahler said.

People living with dementia at greater risk

Dementia Australia used the opportunity of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to call on Australians to make themselves aware of the different forms of elder abuse and to “be alert” to vulnerable Australians, particularly those living with dementia. 

Dementia Australia CEO, Maree McCabe AM, said, “People living with dementia are at increased risk of elder abuse because they are a vulnerable population group.

“With the prevalence of dementia rising exponentially, the risk of being impacted by elder abuse is an increasing concern.

“It is critical that effective safeguards are in place … to protect people living with dementia from elder abuse,” Ms McCabe said.

“On occasions when issues or complaints are raised by a person living with dementia, they are not taken seriously because of their dementia.”

What is elder abuse?

“Elder abuse is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.” – World Health Organisation

There are several different forms of elder abuse, including: 

  • physical, 
  • emotional, 
  • psychological, 
  • sexual, 
  • social, 
  • financial abuse, and
  • neglect.  

Elder abuse can lead to physical injuries, from minor scratches to broken bones, and can have serious, long-term psychological consequences, such as depression and anxiety. 

According to WHO, even relatively minor injuries can cause serious or permanent damage and even death. A 13-year study found that victims of elder abuse are twice as likely to die prematurely than people who are not victims of elder abuse.

People living with dementia must be treated with the same dignity, respect and rights as everyone else, and should be protected from all forms of abuse, said McCabe.

“We are also calling on Australians to understand the warning signs and to look out for their family member, friend, neighbour or client, and know who to call for help.”

Age Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Patterson, said elder abuse can start with “‘benenvolent ageism’, where attitudes tip the scales towards protection and away from respect for an older person’s independence and authonomy. 

“When taken to an extreme, these attitudes can result in elder abuse.”

Patterson used the occasion of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to launch the Australian Human Rights Commission’s ‘Inheritance is not an entitlement’ campaign.

If you know or suspect someone may be a victim of elder abuse, you can: 

  • contact the national Elder Abuse Phone Line on 1800 353 374, or 
  • call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

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  1. Comments like this are why I left the Aged Care Sector after getting spat on and hit in a supermarket, as the person believed all Carers are abusive, I have been hit and punched by family members and residents.
    Why not show how I like lots of Carers sit beside a resident while they are palliative as the family can not cope.
    I have spent hours of unpaid work taking residents to and from appointments.
    Brought clothes, bath products for residents as they had none.
    Yes, there is abuse but do not lump all the carers in the same boat.

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