Opinion: Combating elder abuse and safeguarding our seniors – Call to Action!

In this guest post, Russell Bricknell, CEO of Perth aged care provider Juniper and Louise Forster, CEO of Advocare support services share their views ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15.

Elder abuse is a pressing issue that demands our attention. It knows no boundaries and its consequences are far-reaching and detrimental to the well-being of older Australians.  As the community becomes more informed about elder abuse, we are seeing an increase in cases being identified.

Just like the prevalent and insidious community issues around family violence or child abuse, elder abuse is a community issue that is everyone’s responsibility. It’s not only the responsibility of aged care providers like Juniper but also everyone’s business. I believe education and awareness are key to prevention.

It is up to aged care providers to create a culture of safety and an environment where staff, customers and their families feel empowered to speak up if they feel something is not right. It is also up to us as community members to educate ourselves about what elder abuse looks like so we can be the ones that speak up when we see it in our communities. Sadly, most cases of elder abuse involve a close family member and are often unreported in the community.

By uniting our efforts, we can create a society where our seniors are protected, respected, and cherished.

Elder abuse touches on many areas – it can be physical, emotional, financial, sexual, neglect or social. It can be obvious, or not. Take the case of a husband locking all the doors while he is at work and his wife, living with dementia, is home alone. The husband thought this would keep his wife safe, but his actions have unintended consequences. This action restricted her freedom and was a risk to her safety in case of an emergency, like a fire. This can also be a form of elder abuse.

In the above example, there are alternative ways to keep safe. Home Care staff can work with the family to develop a care plan that prioritises safety, independence, and overall well-being. Day respite services are available to provide a safe and secure environment during the day.

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, about one in 10 older Australians experience some form of elder abuse.

Louise Forster, CEO of Advocare, an independent, community-based, not-for-profit organisation that supports and protects the rights of older Western Australians, says elder abuse is an absolute violation of an older person’s basic human rights. It completely erodes their self-determination and confidence, making speaking out about their experiences much harder. It is complex, multifaceted, and often intergenerational.

Despite this, she says it is not impossible to overcome with the right knowledge, information, and support. Elder abuse can stem from complex factors such as ageism, strained family dynamics, and societal attitudes, but also can be the result of well-intentioned actions turning into unhealthy outcomes for the older person involved.

Communities have a crucial role in combating elder abuse by creating environments that respect and value older individuals. Each of us can spot signs of elder abuse. Red flags include physical injuries, unexplained financial transactions, sudden behaviour changes, and social withdrawal. Elder abuse inflicts physical harm and causes emotional and psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, and a loss of trust.

Promoting the rights of older individuals, enhancing financial literacy, and fostering social connections empower seniors to protect themselves. AdvoCare provides resources and support, enabling people to assert their rights and advocate for their well-being. If you or someone you care about is experiencing elder abuse, or is at risk, free call Advocare’s Elder Abuse Helpline 1300 724 679.

Together we can make a difference.  By upholding the rights of older individuals and building supportive communities, we create a society that prioritises the well-being and dignity of our seniors.

In June we recognise World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Every person has the right to be safe in their home or in their community. Older people’s voice is crucial; as a society, it is our responsibility to listen.  What are you doing to help reduce elder abuse in our communities?


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