By Kate Horowitz
Lifeline’s Elder Abuse Prevention Unit (EAPU) estimates around 30,000 Queenslanders aged over 65 will be abused* in 2011. But to get clear evidence, it is working with research partners to conduct the first Australian prevalence study.
The study is a pilot project, which aims to clarify the nature and prevalence of elder abuse in Queensland as a first step toward a larger, more nationally focused prevalence study in the future.
In 2009/10 Lifeline’s Elder Abuse Helpline recorded 829 abusers in Queensland, 63 per cent of which were related to the older person. Cases commonly took the form of psychological abuse (43 per cent of reported cases), followed closely by financial abuse.
EAPU’s state manager of research analysis innovation and development, Dr Sharon Atkin, hopes that the study will raise awareness of the growing issue.
“We are an ageing population, so the issue is not going to get smaller,” Dr Atkin said. “We want there to be a greater awareness of [elder abuse] so that we can set up resources to help aged Australians over the next 10 or 20 years, such as counseling services.
“Because of the [number of abuse-related] calls Lifeline receives, we believe there needs to be more services for elderly people, especially the ones that are more vulnerable. Last year EAPU ran an awareness campaign and calls regarding elder abuse increased significantly.”
The EAPU helpline provides support, information and referrals to people experiencing or witnessing elder abuse, whether it be psychological, physical, sexual, financial, social abuse or neglect
Coordinator of the EAPU, Les Jackson, said it was shocking that no research had been conducted to-date, considering the prevalence of elder abuse reported to the helpline.
“International studies are helpful but local action needs to be taken so that future responses to elder abuse are based on knowledge derived from an Australian context,” Mr Jackson said.
“The prevalence study will help to enhance the services that are currently provided and will identify areas of need and gaps in services that are not being addressed.”
Until the study is complete and resulting issues addressed, Lifeline’s EAPU has developed a Guide for Developing Elder Abuse Protocols for use by community organisations. The guide encourages relevant agencies to develop elder abuse protocols with a ‘ground up’ approach to policy development.
The Guide for Developing Elder Abuse Protocols document aims to provide agencies with a sound and holistic policy on elder abuse. It will be available on the EAPU website later in the month.
“Protocol documents provide guidelines for staff in the performance of their duties. They assist management to be aware of some of the hurdles faced by staff in their daily routines and, most importantly, they provide a baseline of acceptable behaviour that endeavors to meet the needs of everyone: clients, staff and management.”
To contact the EAPU helpline, call 1300 651 192.
For more information about the EAPU, click here.
For crisis support; suicide prevention or mental health support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
* definition of elder abuse includes physical, verbal, psychological, financial and sexual abuse as well as neglect .