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Disturbing lack of evidence on elder abuse strategies laid bare

Research on elder abuse prevention is urgently needed as there is a lack of high-quality evidence in the area, an Australian review of international studies has found.

Philip Baker, a Professor of Public Health at the Queensland University of Technology, said there was a lack of research that evaluated the effects of elder abuse prevention programs.

“There is considerable uncertainty in the limited research and little to guide the development of a best practice model of care and prevention,” he said.

Professor Baker reviewed seven studies on the effects of different interventions designed to stop elder abuse, which involved 1,924 elderly participants and 740 carers and health workers.

Some of the studies had used carer education as the primary intervention while others turned to educational and support programs for the victims.

But as most of the evidence from the studies was low or very low quality, there was no conclusive evidence for solutions that prevented elder abuse or its re-occurrence, he found.

“We did find, however, that teaching coping strategies to family carers of elderly with dementia probably reduces anxiety and depression of carers, which possibly could lead to better outcomes for the elderly,” said Professor Baker.

“We found no conclusive evidence that caregiver training focused on improved knowledge is successful in reducing abuse.”

What’s more, two of the studies concerned with providing abuse victims with social support and education had yielded disappointing results.

“One study of 403 residents found those who participated in the intervention had a much higher rate of abuse, in other words, the opposite of the hoped effect,” Professor Baker said.

“The other one was conducted on only 16 subjects and was thus too small to detect a difference.”

Professor Barker’s findings come as Australian researchers work to develop a new framework to tackle elder abuse.

Last week Australian Ageing Agenda reported that National Ageing Research Institute was developing an action plan to address elder abuse.

As part of the project, NARI will undertake a review of the literature and consult with stakeholders to identify what strategies are working, any service and knowledge gaps and ways to fill them.

Meanwhile, an ongoing inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission is investigating the laws and frameworks to safeguard older Australians from abuse.

The use of restraint in aged care and the lack of regulation around it are among the issues the commission is exploring, an issues paper released in June showed.

The inquiry is due to report in May 2017.

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