Elder abuse is a global problem. International studies report that 3% – 10% of older people experience abuse or neglect each year. It happens to men and women of every religious, cultural, ethnic and income group. However, much abuse goes unreported. It has been estimated that only 16% of all abuse incidents come to the attention of services which can assist older people to live safely.
Why don’t older people seek help?
Some of the reasons why an older person does not tell anyone about the abuse are:
- They blame themselves for the abuse
- They are ashamed that the abuser is a family member
- They depend on the abuser for support
- They have low self-confidence and self-esteem
- They don’t want to make a fuss
- They are afraid that if they complain the abuse will get worse
- They are isolated, making it difficult for them to tell anyone
- They do not know who to tell or how to get help
- They have dementia or an illness that prevents them from telling anyone.
What are the warning signs?
The following MAY indicate an older person is being abused:
• Unexplained behaviour, sleeping or eating habits
• Withdrawal and/or edginess
• Fear of a particular person
• Unexplained injuries
• Drowsiness (due to over-medication)
• Recoiling from touch
• Unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
• Unpaid bills, lack of money for necessities.
What to do if you think someone you know is a victim of Elder Abuse?
If you’re concerned that someone is experiencing elder abuse, it’s OK to help. Something as simple as asking how they are can make a real difference. The sooner you reach out, the sooner they can get help.
A new Elder Abuse Response Service (EARS) set up on 1 July 2017 is a confidential 24 hour free helpline phone: 0800 32 668 65. Registered nurses will listen and advise anyone (no matter who it is) who needs information or support about elder abuse. If needed, callers will be referred to local elder abuse services to get help. If you are in an abusive situation, or you know about an older person who is, ring the helpline, contact one of the services about or talk to someone who will take it seriously and help you work out a plan of action. The Crimes Act 1961 makes it clear that those who care for, or who are responsible for, a vulnerable person have a duty of care to protect them.
If you think someone is in danger call 111. Ask for the Police.
How to have the conversation
You can ask:
- Are you ok?
- Do you want to talk?
- Is someone hurting you?
- Is there anything I can do?
Listen to what they have to say. Try to give the support, rather than giving them advice or telling them what to do. It is important to let older people make their own decisions. Abuse can create feelings of shame. Let them work through things in their own time.
What can you do to stop elder abuse?
- Respect older people / kaumātua
- Support older people / kaumātua to make their own decisions
- Check that older people / kaumātua’s human rights are met
- Ensure that older people / kaumātua live safe and secure, free from violence
- Challenge ageist attitudes that denigrate the value of the older generation
- Don’t ignore it, get help
- Know how to recognise signs of elder abuse and neglect.