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Services help aged care professionals with duty of care on elder abuse

All aged care professionals have a responsibility to be informed about the signs of elder abuse and to raise suspected cases they encounter with a supervisor or manager in their organisation, providers and experts have said.

Research shows that older people experiencing abuse are often reluctant to report it themselves as they may be dependent on the abuser or fear retribution or the loss of the relationship with their loved one, a forum hosted by the Australian Association of Gerontology heard yesterday.

Calls to the state-based elder abuse helplines showed the majority of abuse happened in the home, and was perpetrated by someone the older person knew – most often an adult son or daughter, or a spouse.

Aged services and community care workers in particular were often well placed to spot potential signs of abuse.

Paul Sadler

Paul Sadler

Paul Sadler, CEO of Presbyterian Aged Care NSW & ACT, said that aged care organisations and professionals had a duty of care when it came to suspected elder abuse.

“We run mandatory training of identification of abuse to ensure our frontline staff understand the importance of reporting,” he said.

“We don’t want staff put in the position of trying to determine the best way to respond, given these are complex situations with often multiple types of abuse occurring. Instead, we tell staff that if they have concerns they should report them to a supervisor, as we have a policy in place that will elevate it to the level required,” Mr Sadler told the Sydney audience.

Kerry Marshall, manager of the NSW Elder Abuse Helpline and Resource Unit, said her organisation had developed multiple resources to help inform and equip aged care providers and staff.

It also provided a three-hour face-to-face training on elder abuse for services, as well as a one-hour free introductory course (more information on those here).

Dr Briony Dow

Dr Briony Dow

Educating professionals about elder abuse

Associate Professor Briony Dow, director of the National Ageing Research Institute, told the forum that research showed educating health professionals about elder abuse could improve detection and management of the issue.

“Our research shows less than half of health professionals had any education or knowledge about elder abuse, so there is still a gap in that respect,” she said.

Figures from Senior Rights Victoria showed its helpline received 755 calls over a two-year period, 60 per cent of which were classified as abuse, Dr Dow said.

The most common forms of abuse were financial (37 per cent), psychological (35 per cent) and physical (9 per cent).

But most people were experiencing more than one type of abuse, she said.

Discussing the most effective approaches for responding to elder abuse, Dr Dow said the evidence showed legal responses were best for financial abuse, which could include court orders and moves to protect assets.

“But these work best when coupled with a case management approach, which may include advocacy, counselling and support to navigate the system in terms of accessing health, housing or social support services,” she said.

Loss of case management

However, Mr Sadler raised concerns over the loss of case management within the broader system as a result of the aged care reforms.

Aged Care Assessment Teams, which previously provided case management, were now focussed on assessment, meaning there was a gap in NSW.

“When you find someone [experiencing elder abuse] who isn’t a client of a service, it’s quite difficult to find someone in health or the police who will take the first step with that person,” he said.

Brendan Moore, general manager of policy, research and information for Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, told the forum that its research had called for banks and financial services to prevent financial abuse of seniors and report suspected cases.

He said Alzheimer’s Australia NSW’s research had identified “red flags” to look for when caring for a person living with dementia, which included fear or anxiety expressed by the person; unfamiliar or new signatures on cheques; inability of the person to access their bank accounts; or PIN codes being given to another person.

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