With World Elder Abuse Awareness Day just around the corner (15th June), it is time to reflect on the fact that elder abuse happens right here in Zealand and that it needs to stop.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 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”.

The WHO’s Active Ageing policy framework states that “confronting and reducing elder abuse requires a multisectoral and multidisciplinary approach”.

Elder abuse takes many forms – psychological abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse – and it is common for several types of abuse occur together.

Institutional abuse is another form, of which facilities need to be particularly mindful. This is when a policy or accepted practice within an organisation that does not respect a person’s rights or causes them harm or distress. Rigid routines that disregard a person’s culture or customs, or rationing of continence products are examples.

Statistics show that more than three quarters of alleged abusers are family members, more than half of the alleged abusers are adult children and grandchildren, and alleged abusers are as likely to be female as male.

It is difficult to know exactly how common elder abuse is, as most goes unreported. It has been estimated that only one in 14 of all abuse incidents come to the attention of a service agency that can intervene to help stop the abuse.

An analysis of data from the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing concluded that ten per cent of the population aged over 65 years who are living in the community experience abuse.  International studies report that three to ten per cent of older people experience abuse or neglect each year. It happens to men and women of every religious, cultural, ethnic and socio-economic group.

In addition to seven other providers of Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Services, Age Concern offers free, confidential, specialist Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Services in 23 centres throughout New Zealand. They also provide education about elder abuse for those working with older people and other interested groups. They also work with other agencies such as health services, needs assessment services, the police, and banks to ensure the best possible outcome for older people.

Age Concern’s ‘Elder Abuse Hits Close to Home’ campaign will see events held around the country during Elder Abuse Awareness Week from 15-22 June to help drive awareness of elder abuse and neglect.


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