What is elder abuse? I'm worried about what's going on at my friend's place. What can be done?
We know it’s hard to ask for help, regardless of whether you’re the person being treated in this way, the person behaving in this way or someone who is concerned about a situation. Fears of being ashamed or upsetting the family/whānau will often prevent action being taken. It’s common for older people who are being abused to think no-one will believe them, that it’s not that bad or it’s all their fault. Both parties in the abuse may feel trapped and the concerned person uncertain about where to turn to for help.
While elder abuse is common in our homes and community, 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 each person gets the help and support they need. You are not alone.
It's helpful to know what constitutes elder abuse. The following definitions are commonly used:
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 involve 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 anywhere - in people’s own homes, when staying with others or while in a range of community or residential homes.
Factors to be aware of
Dependency issues, a change in who makes decisions in the household, loneliness, and ageism can all play a part.
Those who cross the line and behave as described above 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 wasn’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 the grandchildren now; or that older people need some privacy too and the opportunity to get out and see their friends; or that it’s best for Nana 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 feeling under pressure and are, or fear you may act inappropriately; if you are being abused, or know someone who is, you can ring the free helpline 0800 32 668 65 or call or Age Concern on 0800 65 2 105. They will be able to direct you to where you can get help.