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
Guest speakers will include Victorian Commissioner for Seniors and Ambassador for Elder Abuse Gerard Mansour and Seniors Rights’ peer educator Jennifer Evans.
A visionary Victorian State Government initiative, Seniors Rights Victoria was established by the Victorian Government in 2008 following the review conducted by ex-Senator Barney Cooney. In that year the State Government adopted a state-wide elder abuse strategy – the first state in Australia to do so!
Elder abuse is any act causing harm to an older person by someone they know and trust, such as family and friends.
Now a program of COTA Victoria, Seniors Rights Victoria continues to have a key role in the delivery of the Victorian Government’s Elder Abuse Prevention and Response strategies and initiatives to contribute to the response, prevention and education of elder abuse in Victoria.
In 10 years Seniors Rights Victoria has achieved:
- 22,063 calls to our Helpline
- 29,182 participants in community education sessions
- 12,247 participants in professional development sessions
- And produced nine different information sheets, and the booklet, Care for Your Assets: Money, Ageing & Family.
The Royal Commission into Family Violence was another significant initiative of the current Government, with the 2016 report and arising family violence reforms clearly identified elder abuse as a form of family violence. The impact has been a growth in awareness of elder abuse and additional older people seeking help.
“We support older people to make positive changes and we learn from them. We also make major contributions to State and Federal government policy and action in this sector,” said Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey.
“We appreciate the respect and positive responses we receive about our service, and from the leadership opportunities to collaborate and share our knowledge.”
The Yarra Ranges Council project was released for this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June. The video features poems written and spoken by the reference group members, about the isolation and negativity people feel while experiencing elder abuse.
Earlier this year, students read these poems and discussed the issue in a workshop, before drawing specific parts of the poems. These drawings were then animated by local animator, Al MacInnes.
Yarra Ranges Mayor, Councillor Len Cox, said he hoped the video would help to raise awareness of abuse in the community.
“Elder abuse is a serious issue, and it comes in many forms, from physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual abuse, and it can include mistreatment and neglect,” Cr Cox said.
“This abuse is often carried out by people the victims know and trust, such as family members and friends, and victims rarely speak out.
“Abuse is never okay, and we cannot let this continue to happen to our vulnerable older adults in the community.
Stacey, pictured in the centre with her colleagues, said she took the first call when the Helpline was first started 10 years ago through Seniors’ Information Victoria, working as part of a team of only five people.
“The phone had a different ring tone. There was a lot to learn in those early days because there was a lot less knowledge about elder abuse,” Stacey said.
Stacey said the frequency of calls has definitely grown over time, as is reflected by the statistics gathered by the service and the expansion of the program.
“The calls were different in the past and now callers are far more specific, whether they are calling for themselves, or calling for friends or neighbours for whom they are concerned and then there’s more calls from service providers seeking advice,” she said.
She said there were a lot more calls now about adult children, sibling rivalry and societal challenges such as mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and costs associated with housing and living.
Stacey said the main attribute needed to answer the Helpline was to listen, then to work out how to navigate the conversation to respond appropriately and determine whether the caller simply needs advice, or more support from the lawyers and advocates on staff.
“My role was to provide information, to determine whether it goes to the next stage and to make good referrals as often callers have been around and around seeking information from service providers. I’d often ring the referral service myself on their behalf,” she said.
“I like the conversations. You build rapport and trust by listening from the first point. Not all calls are hard, and even when they are you can create some levity, some hope…and continuity if they call back, even if anonymously, when they are ready for the next step.”
Stacey said it was paramount the Helpline reassured callers, including older people, of their privacy, and provided them with enough information so they felt supported to make their own decisions.
She said it was great to see the progress made in community awareness about elder abuse, how to respond to it and how to educate people with the aim of preventing it occurring.
“A good day is when you have an older person speaking to our service in a safe place, ready to take the next step and you can help them get it all in place. I will miss this role but that’s good, I’m ready to take on the next challenge,” Stacey said.
The sessions and clinics combined will enable people who have been recently diagnosed with dementia to plan ahead and to make informed choices about their future financial, health or care arrangements, as well as to put those choices into an appropriate legal format. The pilot project will run for a year.
Seniors Rights Victoria will support delivery of the session on Advanced Care Planning and Powers of Attorney (POAs) within the “Living with Dementia” program and as stand along one-off community education sessions. In addition, Seniors Rights Victoria will provide a number of legal clinics for people who have attended a session to provide one-on-one legal and advocacy consultations.
“This will ensure that legal education and advice is based on therapeutic principles and an empowerment approach for the older person, including the provision of support for non-legal issues facing the individual. It will also allow us to screen for elder abuse,” said Seniors Rights Victoria principal Lawyer Rebecca Edwards.
“We’re really excited to be pioneering this approach in collaboration with Dementia Australia – the link between cognitive impairment and elder abuse is well established,” she said.
Ms Edwards said Australian research estimates that up to 10 per cent of older people experience some form of elder abuse and that the incidence is significantly under-reported (Kaspiew et al 2016). In addition, almost one in 10 people over 65 have dementia (NATSEM 2016). For example, recent research has found elder abuse prevalence rates among guardianship clients of 13 per cent in 2013-14 and 21 per cent in 2016-17 (Bedson et al 2018).
The sessions will start in 2019.
The free session will be held at the Sunbury Senior Citizens Club. It will focus on elder abuse and be presented by Gary Ferguson from Seniors Rights Victoria.
Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, support, advice and education to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people. Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust such as family or friends.
This event has been organised by the valuable community partnership between: Sunbury Police Community Register, Sunbury U3A, HeartBeat Victoria Sunbury Branch, Sunbury Community Health, Merri Health and Seniors Rights Victoria.
A healthy afternoon tea provided. For more information please leave a phone message at Sunbury Police Community Register on 9744 8165, or to register your attendance go to Eventbrite.
For more information download the pdf Final Elder Abuse Flyer