Physical, Psychological & Financial Elder Abuse – Don’t Look Away

older woman isolated

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15th and it provides us with the opportunity to speak openly about this hidden but widespread problem. Elder Abuse is defined as a behaviour or lack of appropriate action, occurring within a relationship of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.

There are many different types of Elder Abuse these include:

  • Physical Abuse - infliction of pain, injury or use of force
  • Psychological Abuse - behaviour causing mental anguish, stress or fear e.g. ridicule or threats, harassment or humiliation, preventing choice or decision-making, withholding affection.
  • Financial Abuse - illegal or improper use of money, property or other assets e.g. unauthorised taking of money or possessions, misuse of the power of attorney, failure to repay loans, use of home and/or utilities without contributing to costs, scams that rely on establishing a relationship with the older person.
  • Neglect - not providing for physical, emotional or social needs e.g. inadequate food, clothing, shelter, lack of social contact, support, health needs not attended to.
  • Sexual Abuse - Non-consensual sexual acts or exploitive behaviours.
  • Institutional Abuse - a policy or accepted practice within an organisation that disregards a person’s rights or causes harm e.g. lack of respect for a person’s culture or customs, inappropriate rationing of continence products, inflexible routines

Frequently, several types of abuse can be present at the same time.

The statistics around Elder Abuse are shocking.  In the past 12 months, Age Concern Auckland has received 1,180 elder abuse enquiries, which is over three every day. Following an investigation of these, Age Concern have then needed to support 617 older people with intensive casework to overcome the abuse and neglect they are experiencing. Across New Zealand, 2411 cases of Elder Abuse were investigated by Age Concerns of which 75 percent had abuse substantiated.

In four out of every five cases dealt with by Age Concern Auckland, the abuse is happening at the hands of a family member, and in two out of three cases the victim lives with their abuser.  The fact that so many of the abusers are family members means that frequently cases of elder abuse aren’t reported because there is a fear with older people that if they speak out they will lose the only social support network they have.

What are the warning signs?

The following signs MAY indicate an older person is being abused:

  • unexplained behaviour, sleeping or eating habits
  • withdrawal and/or edginess
  • fear of a particular person
  • confusion
  • unexplained injuries
  • drowsiness (due to over-medication)
  • recoiling from touch
  • unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
  • unpaid bills, lack of money for necessities.

It is crucial that we are all aware of the warning signs of Elder Abuse, so we can intervene if we are concerned.

The cost of Elder Abuse is immense. Elder abuse and neglect can be a significant cause of injury, illness, lost productivity, isolation, and despair. Abuse can reduce an older person’s independence by undermining their self-esteem and confidence. It damages family/whānau relationships, financial security, and mental and physical health, increasing dependency on health and support agencies which may result in the need for residential care.

Elder Abuse can be a very sensitive and distressing matter to speak openly about, but I encourage older people in our community to speak out if they are experiencing abuse or are concerned that someone they know is.

Age Concern offers free, confidential, specialist Elder Abuse Response Services throughout most regions of New Zealand. We work with older people and their family/whānau to stop abuse, reduce the harm caused and increase understanding to keep all family members safe. Age Concern Auckland also provides education about elder abuse and neglect for those working with older people/kaumātua and other interested groups and organisations.

Age Concern Auckland works alongside other agencies such as health services, needs assessment services, the police, banks, residential care facilities, iwi and other community agencies, to ensure the best possible outcome for the older person/kaumātua. You can speak confidentially to the Elder Abuse Team at Age Concern Auckland by calling one of the three offices.

Central & West Auckland – 09 820 0184

Counties Manukau – 09 279 4331

North Shore – 09 489 4975

Outside of Auckland you can call 0800 32 668 65.

Let’s all work together to stop elder abuse from happening.

Kevin Lamb CEO Age Concern Auckland

Kevin Lamb CEO Age Concern Auckland

Kevin is an editorial contributor to AgedPlus magazine.