Seniors Rights Victoria was proud to help launch Timboon and District Healthcare Service’s new elder abuse prevention project, Warm Safe Home. The project focuses on one of our most treasured places, our home, in order to raise awareness of elder abuse.
There has been an increasing push in recent years towards a national harmonisation of Powers of Attorney across Australia, as well as the establishment of a national register for Powers of Attorney.
Thoughtfully prepared Powers of Attorney can reduce the risk of elder abuse for people living with dementia.
The idea that from little things, big things grow is the foundation of a ‘conversation- seeding’ program tackling elder abuse. The program is working with older Victorians to help them increase community dialogue about ageing, and how ageism may lead to elder abuse.
Poor mental health may make a person more susceptible to elder abuse and elder abuse, in turn, adversely impacts an older person’s mental health.
une 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), officially recognised by the UN in 2011. Individuals and organisations worldwide will be participating in events and activities that empower, celebrate and inform older people, as a way of preventing mistreatment and harm occurring in their communities.
The Australian Government has committed $18.3m over four years to support the delivery of frontline services to people experiencing elder abuse.
The advocates working at Seniors Rights Victoria offer information and assistance to these callers, who can often be distressed. Seniors Rights Victoria currently has a Help Sheet which contains suggestions about what to do in these situations. This includes tips for the concerned family member or friend on listening to the older person with an open mind, letting them know help is available and encouraging and supporting the older person to contact Seniors Rights Victoria.
Seniors Rights Victoria frequently works with the older person and a supportive family member together to tackle their problems. From this work with concerned family and friends, Seniors Rights Victoria is aware that more support is needed.
To meet this need, Seniors Rights Victoria will next year extend their assistance for concerned family members and friends of older people experiencing abuse through a project that will produce a more comprehensive booklet. This booklet will be developed in consultation with people who can provide input into the topics and content. It will contain information on supporting the older person being abused and referral to appropriate services. The booklet is another way of achieving the commitment of Seniors Rights Victoria preventing elder abuse in the community and supporting those being abused and mistreated.
The following case study shows how we try to help people who are worried about an older person who they are close to.
Candice* called the Helpline regarding her mother, Betty, who is 85 years old and lives in her own home. Candice’s brother Bruce has been living with Betty on and off all his life. He has a history of mental illness and drug addiction. Candice told the helpline advocate that Bruce is not paying his way and treats her mother poorly, but that Betty is too scared to do anything about it. Candice doesn’t think her mother will call Seniors Rights Victoria to discuss the situation.
The Helpline advocate listens to Candice’s concerns. The advocate explains Seniors Rights Victoria’s role and discusses strategies for Candice to encourage Betty to make contact through the Helpline.
“We also tell her to tell her mother that we are a free and confidential service and that we will not make her mother do anything she doesn’t want to do,” said Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey.
If Betty is willing to participate in an advice call, one of SRV’s lawyers can provide her with legal advice about her legal options, and an Advocate will be able to talk to Betty about supports available to her – and even to Bruce, if he will accept them.
The Helpline Advocate will also talk directly to Candice about what some of those supports may be in case Betty doesn’t want to talk with one of Senior Rights Victoria’s lawyers or advocates.
A few weeks later Candice calls with Betty on the line and introduces her to the Advocate who explains SRV service. After some discussion and reassurance, Betty agrees to an appointment with a lawyer and advocate. We take some details from Betty and make a time to call her back when it suits her and when she is in a place where she feels safe.
“We explain that we will need to talk to Betty on her own (without Candice present) to ensure that she isn’t being unduly influenced by Candice, but, with Betty’s consent, we can talk with Candice after we speak with Betty,” Ms Blakey said. “This process supports our service’s primary ethos which is to empower and advocate on behalf of the older person.”
*Names have been changed to maintain privacy and protect the confidentiality of our clients.
According to Seniors Rights Victoria Advocacy Coordinator Philippa Campbell the empowerment ethos allows an older person to make informed decisions about the events affecting them, even if that decision is to take no action.
“Loss of independence is a big challenge for people as we age. So we seek to speak with the older person to give them the support to choose what they want to do. We won’t do anything the older person doesn’t want us to do,” Philippa said.
“We’ve researched the barriers for older people to disclosing abuse and taking action. We know in most cases they don’t want an adult child to be removed from their life, sometimes because they depend on them, and that they fear being shipped to an aged care facility.”
Elder abuse can be experienced by any older person, irrespective of their gender, education, socio-economic background, culture, or whether they live alone or in aged care.
“Doctors and allied health professionals are a key link in addressing elder abuse in the community. We know older people may confide their worries to them, possibly when they’re visiting for a completely different reason. There’s a confidentiality issue, so we often suggest the medical professional seeks another appointment with their patient when they can gain permission from them to call us at that time so we can speak directly with the older person or to consider a My Aged Care assessment of the older person so we can be part of the referral process.”
Dr Margot Lodge, a Consultant Physician in Geriatric Medicine at Alfred Health, agrees with the empowerment ethos and the collaborative approach of practitioners and specialist services like Seniors Rights Victoria when supporting an older person suspected of experiencing elder abuse.
As a geriatrician, Dr Lodge sees older people after acute hospital admissions such as a fall or illness, or in the outpatient clinic when the person has been experiencing deteriorating health. She works with the older person to assess what they need medically and socially to attempt to restore their health and functioning, and to determine their capacity to drive the process. It’s in these situations where she is exposed to cases of elder abuse.
If Dr Lodge suspects a case of abuse she’ll speak with the older person about the situation and the help available, so if they want to take control they know the resources available.
“It can be horribly frustrating as a front-line clinician to hear about these family experiences and know the older person is willing to minimise their safety for the sake of family relationships. There’s often been lots of conflict and lots of time and the deferred position tends to be not to through your relation under the bus,” Dr Lodge said.
“Empowering the older person and utilising the multidisciplinary approach and specialist services definitely helps the older person, and sometimes the abuse can stop or lessen.”
Philippa said older people often find it a huge relief to speak to a person who is willing to help them find a pathway to drive the process.
“The biggest response we get is thank you for listening. The older person often comments that they have had our brochure for so long but have been nervous about making a call. But we don’t judge, we just work with them so they can understand their rights even if they don’t do anything. There is a huge relief that they have somewhere to go, that someone has their back.”
For more information on the signs and resources for elder abuse go to Senior Rights Victoria’s Service Providers Website