Page updated June 14, 2019

Together we can stop elder abuse

June 13, 2019

‘Together we can stop elder abuse and there’s no excuse for elder abuse’ were the key themes of Eastern Elder Abuse Network’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day held at Box Hill Town Hall on 12 June 2019.

This event acknowledged the upcoming World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (15 June) and recognised leading work by organisations to combat elder abuse. It attracted about 120 guests including local community leaders, service providers and people living in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Michael Smith, Eastern Community Legal Centre’s (ECLC) CEO said when we talk about preventing elder abuse, we are really talking about work that prevents abuse from happening in the first place. He said we should ask ourselves:

  • What are the things that have set the social context in which it is okay for the abuse of older people to take place?
  • What is driving the sets of behaviours and attitudes that lead to the abuse of older people?

“Older people should not have to put interventions in place to protect themselves. We should be creating a society where older people are respected and valued, and abuse towards them isn’t tolerated at all,” Michael said.

Keynote speaker Associate Professor Briony Dow, Director, National Ageing Research Institute and from the University of Melbourne said there were many forms of abuse and many different types of abusers that are usually known to the abused person.

She said common triggers for abuse experienced by people older than 55 years of age are Illness, disability, frailty, substance abuse, isolation, traumatic life events, finances, and being part of a minority group or culture. The most common abusers are adult children, partners, individual carers and institutional carers.

In answering the question about what we can do about this, Associate Professor Dow said there are three ways we can address prevention which are to:

  • Prevent abuse before it happens by addressing ageism and risk factors.
  • Intervene early to prevent the recurrence of abuse and to reduce the escalation of abuse by holding family mediation and educating health and aged care workers.
  • Prevent long-term harm to older people by using legal remedies and counselling, managing cases from the start and by providing support for victims.

Associate Professor Dow said that while there is not a lot of evidence around the success of preventative approaches, there is some evidence that multidisciplinary approaches work.

“There is limited high-quality research evidence and we need to do much more to determine how often the abuse of older people occurs and how we can stop it,” she said.

ECLC is focussing on the prevention of ageism, discrimination, and the drivers of the abuse of older people though its project: Prevention of elder abuse project: OPERA The centre is also focussing on responding to instances of long-term harm to older people through its new health-justice partnership with Eastern Health.

Community advocate Dilnaz Billimoria who was on the panel of eight community and other leaders who answered questions asked by guests at the event said, “My focus as a community member is to advise 100 times a day that there is no name and shame in talking to your family, discussing with others and making decisions based on informed choices.

“In the Indian community, we found senior citizens were blaming their ‘karma’ [destiny/ luck] and we had to flip that on its head and say it is your ‘Karta’ [action/ decision].

“Also, we reinforce that grandparents are not grand servants,” Dilnaz emphatically said.

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