World Elder Abuse Awareness Day occurs ever year on 15 June. The day is recognised by the United Nations and represents the one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations.
It comes in many forms and afflicts many families, but it can be stopped. New Zealand is facing up to its record on elder abuse and help is at hand. You are not alone.
Elder abuse is common in our homes and community. We know it’s hard to ask for help, regardless of whether you’re the person being treated in this way or the person behaving in this way. Fears of being ashamed or upsetting the family/whānau will often prevent action being taken. The older person may think no-one will believe them, that it’s not that bad or it’s all their fault. Both parties may feel trapped.
There are six types of elder abuse:
Financial abuse is the inappropriate, illegal, or improper exploitation of the funds or property of the older person. This may be without their consent, or if consent is given, it may be under pressure. Threats may be made, or the PIN number of bank cards demanded; family/whānau members may move in and take over the older person’s home; there may be a sale of property or loans given under pressure that disadvantage the older person.
Neglect is the failure to provide the necessities of life, such as adequate meals, heating, or clothing. Active neglect is the conscious withholding of such necessities. Passive neglect often results from a carer’s failure to provide those necessities because of their own lack of information or a refusal to follow the directions of health professionals. Self-neglect involves the older person being neglectful of their own needs.
Emotional and/or psychological abuse involves behaviour that causes mental or emotional anguish or fear. It may in-volve humiliation, intimidation, threats, or removal of decision-making powers.
Physical abuse is behaviour that causes injury or pain and includes actions such as slapping, hitting, bruising, squeezing, restraining, burning and inappropriate use or withholding of medication.
Sexual abuse involves inappropriate touching and unwanted sexual contact. Threats or force may be used.
Institutional abuse involves the policies and practices of organisations that negatively affect the wellbeing and the rights of older people.
Elder abuse can happen in people’s own homes, when staying with others or while in a range of community or residential homes.
Dependency issues, a change in who makes decisions, loneliness and ageism all play a part. Those who cross the line may justify their behaviour to themselves – ‘I can do what I like in my own home’; ‘It’s no-one else’s business’; ‘They’d be in a rest home if it weren’t for me’. They may tell themselves it’s not theft but payment for what they do, or that they’re going to inherit the money anyway. Other times there may be a lack of awareness or disregard of the needs and rights of the older person and the process of ageing. For example, not understanding that Koro needs help with taking his pills, eating or with his personal care; or that Grandma cannot be responsible for others in the household now; or that older people need some privacy too and the opportunity to get out and see their friends; or that it’s best to be up and dressed each day if possible; or that the pension is for Poppa’s needs and not spending money for the kids.
Issues of financial or carer stress, household overcrowding, mental health problems or drug and/or alcohol problems can add to the stress, making it harder to face the situation.
Where to get help
If there is immediate danger, call 111 for the police or ambulance. If you are being abused or know someone who is, you can ring the free Elder Abuse Response Service helpline, 0800 32 668 65. Registered nurses will listen and advise anyone who needs information or support about elder abuse – whether they are enquiring for themself or whether they are someone who’s concerned it might be happening to a friend or family member. Callers will then be referred to local elder abuse services to get the help they need
Every situation is unique. So is the solution. A skilled and experienced elder abuse worker will help you find your way through all this. They know that for most people, family/whānau are important. They will work with you, and family/whānau where possible, so that you each get the help and support you need.