Jul 01, 2024

Retirement Village Operators Urged to Strengthen Elder Abuse Protections

Retirement Village Operators Urged to Strengthen Elder Abuse Protections
Australia's Age Discrimination Commissioner has issued a compelling call for the retirement living sector to enhance its measures against elder abuse. [iStock].

Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner, Robert Fitzgerald AM, has issued a compelling call for the retirement living sector to enhance its measures against elder abuse. This follows a growing concern about the prevalence and impact of such abuse within these communities.

Elder abuse, affecting one in six older Australians, manifests in various forms including neglect, financial exploitation, physical violence, and psychological harm. Within retirement villages, resident-on-resident abuse has emerged as the most common form, as highlighted by a 2023 study from the NSW Retirement Villages Residents Association.

Currently, New South Wales mandates Retirement Village Elder Abuse Prevention Strategies, requiring operators to develop comprehensive plans to support both staff and residents. Commissioner Fitzgerald advocates for similar regulations to be adopted nationwide, emphasizing the critical responsibility of retirement village operators.

“Elder abuse is alarmingly common and utterly unacceptable in any context, particularly in environments meant to be safe havens for older Australians,” Commissioner Fitzgerald stated. “Operators must take proactive steps to prevent it.”

Retirement villages serve over 250,000 older Australians, offering a sense of community and well-being. Fitzgerald stresses the importance of these operators implementing robust strategies to ensure residents’ safety, dignity, and access to necessary support services.

“Awareness of elder abuse within the sector has grown, but awareness alone is insufficient. We need cohesive national strategies to mitigate the risks,” he added.

The Commissioner also expressed concern over the impact of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis on elder abuse rates. Financial pressures, including increased housing stress, could exacerbate the risk of abuse. The National Elder Abuse phone line recorded 9,085 calls from July 2023 to May 2024, marking a 36% increase from the previous year.

“This significant rise serves as a timely reminder this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day that vigilance is crucial,” said Commissioner Fitzgerald.

While national helpline data does not capture state-specific calls, insights from state-level services suggest several contributing factors. Increased awareness of elder abuse, with 15% of older Australians identifying as victims, and economic pressures are key drivers. Additionally, the phenomenon of ‘inheritance impatience,’ where adult children, impatient for wealth transfer from their longer-living parents, resort to abuse, is a growing concern.

Fitzgerald welcomed the forthcoming National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians, yet emphasized that much work remains. He called for urgent reform of Enduring Power of Attorney laws to prevent financial abuse and for the establishment of adult safeguarding laws across all states and territories.

“We need a national safeguarding framework for consistency and more engagement with First Nations and culturally diverse communities to address their unique experiences and concerns,” he said. “Elder abuse is a societal issue, and coordinated efforts across all sectors are essential to protect the rights of older people.”

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