13 June 2019
By Cassandra Barrett, Team Leader – Healthy Communities
When Leon's* daughter said she needed him to sign a form, he didn't think twice. She assured him it was nothing important, and he trusted his children implicitly. What Leon didn't know was that the form listed him as a guarantor for a loan that his daughter and her husband had taken out for a new business venture. The business eventually failed, and the bank took steps to sell Leon's home to recoup the losses. He had no idea what had happened - the first he knew of any issues was when he received a letter from the bank advising him that his property was to be sold.
June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, an annual campaign to highlight the prevalence and impact of elder abuse around the world.
Elder abuse can be defined as a single or repeated act that causes harm to an older person and occurs within a relationship of trust, such as a spouse, relative, neighbour or friend. Elder abuse can take various forms, including physical, financial, emotional, sexual and social abuse. It can also be the result of deliberate or unintentional neglect.
While reliable evidence is unfortunately lacking, current research estimates that between 2 to 14% of older Australians are affected by elder abuse in any given year, though under-reporting means that the actual prevalence is likely to be higher.
With the rapid growth in Australia's ageing population - in 2050, over a fifth of the population will be aged over 65 - elder abuse represents a significant challenge for the future.
A belief in each individual's right to safety, dignity and self-determination, irrespective of age, is at the core of our work at Jewish Care, however, sadly, there are adults living in our community who experience elder abuse.
"In a community like ours where the role of family and respect for one's elders is such an important part of our culture, it can be hard to believe that elder abuse occurs," says Debbie, Jewish Care social worker. "But it absolutely does. The shame, the stigma, the often hidden nature of abuse - these, coupled with the older person's fear of losing contact with loved ones if they were to report the abuse, can make it very difficult to seek help."
Research suggests that financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse. Often reliant on others for support with daily care or social contact, older people are particularly vulnerable.
"The financial abuse of older people is particularly insidious," says Mark, a Senior Financial Counsellor at Jewish Care. "Unfortunately there are some people who take advantage of an older person's trust, for their own financial gain."
Financial abuse of elders can take many forms. Typically it encompasses theft, forgery, misuse of property or power of attorney, or preventing access to funds.
"I've seen situations where older people have had money taken from their bank accounts without their knowledge, had their signature forged on financial documents, been prevented from accessing their pension, have loaned money to others that has not been repaid...Each of these incidents is devastating - not just from a financial point of view, but in terms of the relationship with their loved one. The loss of trust is very hurtful."
Signs of financial abuse in elders
- Large or unexplained withdrawals or transfers from bank accounts
- Little or no access to cash
- Inability to access bank accounts or financial documents
- Discrepancy in signatures on cheques or financial documents
- Accumulation of unpaid bills
- Unexplained disappearance of belongings
- Being pressured or coerced to make changes to a will or other financial document, or to appoint someone as Power of Attorney
- Being pressured or coerced to loan or gift money
- Disparity between living conditions and income
- Going without essentials, such as food, clothing or utilities
- Prescriptions not being filled; continence aids not purchased/used
- Not taking up care following an ACAS assessment
- Being unwilling to make access modifications to the home
Worried about someone?
With the expansion of the definition of family violence to include elder abuse, recognition of and support for those who have experienced elder abuse is growing. If you are concerned that someone you know may be experiencing elder abuse, refer to the below options for support.
Seniors Rights Victoria Elder Abuse Helpline – 1300 368 821
Elder Rights Advocacy – 1800 700 600
Jewish Care Victoria – 8517 5999
Work in the sector?
Monash Health in conjunction with The Bouverie Centre and Seniors Rights Victoria are offering a range of free elder abuse sessions for community workers. Click here for full details and booking instructions.
How can I help to prevent elder abuse?
- Be alert – familiarise yourself with the signs of elder abuse and the services that are available to help
- Support the older people in your life to build their protective factors, such as social connectedness and independence
- If someone you know is struggling with their caring role, encourage them to seek support. Carers Victoria and Alfred Health Carer Services are a great place to start.