As we approach World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15th Age Concern Auckland’s CEO, Kevin Lamb is calling for everyone to take a stand and speak out against this frequently hidden problem.

“An analysis of data from the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Aging concluded that 10 per cent of the population aged over 65 experience some form of elder abuse. However, it is estimated that 3 out of 4 cases are unreported, meaning there is no opportunity for an agency like Age Concern to intervene and address the problem.

“That’s not good enough and it is something that must change,” says Lamb.

The theme of this year’s Elder Abuse Awareness Week is ‘It’s ok to ask for help’ and aims to encourage everyone to speak out if they are concerned about elder abuse. Elder Abuse and Neglect 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.

Elder abuse can be physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and/or financial in nature. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect. Elder abuse cuts across gender and occurs irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or income.

Last year Age Concern’s elder abuse services across New Zealand received 2,260 referrals – that’s nine referrals every working day. Two thirds of these were confirmed to involve elder abuse or neglect, and the majority of cases involved more than one type of abuse. Of these cases:

  • 78% included psychological abuse
  • 49% involved financial abuse
  • 18% involved physical abuse
  • 18% included neglect
  • 18% involved self-neglect

Equally as concerning is that 80% of the alleged abusers are family members, with 54% being adult children or grandchildren of the victim.

“The fact that so many of the abusers are family members contributes to the underreporting because there is a fear with older people that if they speak-out they will lose the only social support network they have,” says Lamb.

Age Concern Auckland recently worked with 74 year old Mollie* and her family to address the abuse she was experiencing. Mollie shares her house with her son Robert*. Robert was on home detention for breaching a protection order condition against his former partner. Robert frequently psychologically abused Mollie, telling her she was useless and controlling her behaviour. Age Concern Auckland was contacted by Mollie’s daughter Sarah* who was very concerned about Mollie’s safety and wellbeing but whom had been unable to resolve her concerns directly with her brother.

In the initial phone conversation with Sarah, Age Concern checked on Mollie’s immediate safety and shared some strategies with Sarah so she could help Mollie herself and explained they would need Mollie’s consent before speaking to her. A few days later, Sarah phoned saying that Mollie had agreed to be supported by Age Concern. During their meeting with Mollie, she expressed her relief at talking to Age Concern about her worries. They talked to Mollie about her rights and developed a safety plan and action plan with her, which made her feel safe and confident to deal with her son’s behaviour.

Age Concern also spoke to a probation officer to get more information about what Mollie could do if Robert was abusive and breached his probation conditions. This information was provided to Mollie and Sarah. Mollie also told Robert about Age Concern’s involvement and he has since changed his behaviour towards his mum.

Kevin Lamb says Mollie’s case illustrates how speaking out about elder abuse usually has a positive resolution.

“It empowers the older person and ensures they know where they can go for support. Initially it can be a very sensitive and distressing matter to speak openly about but we encourage everyone in the community to be aware of the risk factors and speak out if they are concerned about elder abuse.”

Anyone who has concerns about elder abuse and would like to talk to someone, please note this free confidential 24/7 helpline: 0800 3266865.

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