Members of the Elder Abuse Roundtable pictured last year with the Aged Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson AO, seated front right

Roundtable considers the impacts of COVID-19

Members of the Elder Abuse Roundtable pictured last year with the Aged Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Patterson AO, seated front right

Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) is working hard to understand how older people, particularly those who are at risk of elder abuse, might be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated period of isolation.

SRV recently convened a meeting with organisations that are part of the Elder Abuse Roundtable to discuss how the pandemic is affecting older people within their client base and what can be done to mitigate the impacts.

The roundtables are held quarterly and are attended by organisations including National Ageing Research Institute (NARI), Victoria Police, Eastern Community Legal Service, Pronia, Transgender Victoria, Office of the Public Advocate, No To Violence, Better Place Australia, and Elder Rights Advocacy.

The discussion highlighted how many older people are feeling extremely isolated and lonely, having given up many of their usual activities, and not feeling comfortable accessing health and community services as they did before. With libraries, community and activity groups, cultural clubs and faith-based activities closed down, many people have been unable to stay in contact with their communities. This highlights a need for organisations to continue to reach out to the community, particularly people who do not have access to the internet and online services.

As some organisations have moved to providing services online or via telephone there is some concern that it is more difficult for professionals to pick up on signs that a person may be experiencing abuse. While telehealth and online services are better than nothing, they are not always suitable or user-friendly for older people, and it is important that the value of face-to-face contact is not lost as we move into a post-pandemic environment.

For some people their living arrangements have changed because of COVID-19, with respite options not readily available, or having to support family members who are out of work or facing other pressures. Older people who are private renters have also been having difficulty, particularly if their part-time work has been lost.

Importantly, the meeting recognised that as the official lockdown period begins to ease, older people as a more vulnerable cohort, continue to face uncertainty about what they should and shouldn’t do, highlighting the importance of continued advocacy for the needs of all older people at this time.