World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is an opportunity to remind ourselves that older people are highly valued members of our community, writes Saviour Buhagiar.

On 15 June, Uniting NSW.ACT will join with organisations around the globe in recognising World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

As Australians, we believe every person deserves equal support, equal rights and equal opportunities. Yet we often fail to live up to this promise when we allow older members of our society to be abused or neglected.

Older people are vital, contributing members of our community. They have a wealth of experience to share. They are someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, grandmother or grandfather. Regardless of their age, our older Australians have the right to feel safe and be treated with dignity and respect in their home and in the community.

Unfortunately, the reality of our elders’ rights and the statistics on elder abuse make for some shocking reading.

The World Health Organisation estimates that around one in six people over the age of 60 have experienced some form of abuse during the past year. Here in our own backyard, in the first three months of 2022, the NSW Ageing and Disability Commission received almost 900 reports involving abuse of older people.

In most cases the alleged perpetrators of the abuse were family members of the victim.

What we have come to understand is an increase in frailty and an increase in dependency can often put older people in a position of vulnerability. Sadly, we see people then take advantage of that situation.

Given the extensive network of Uniting residential aged care services, we acknowledge we also sadly hear allegations and instances of elder abuse from those we support.

Saviour Buhagiar

As an organisation we invest in thorough training of our staff to champion the respect and dignity of the older people in our services, while carefully screening employees who support some of the most vulnerable in our society.

When allegations do arise, we have clear protocols that promote swift and transparent escalation, investigation and action to respond to any concerns which are identified.

Uniting is committed to upholding the rights of older people receiving aged care. Our residents have the right to equitable access to care, the right to exercise, the right of autonomy, the right to non-discriminatory treatment, the right to voice their opinions and the right to freedom from degrading or inhumane treatment and any form of abuse.

Devastatingly, the problem of elder abuse is an increasing concern given Australia’s ageing population. By 2050, it is predicted that more than a fifth of our population will be over the age of 65, meaning more of our loved ones could be exposed to potential abuse.

So what should we be looking out for?

The most prevalent forms of elder abuse are financial abuse and neglect, but it can take many other forms including physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and social abuse.

Physical injuries and changes in an older person’s financial situation can be clear indicators that something is amiss. But even subtle changes in behaviour, like noticing that someone has become withdrawn or evasive, can be indicative that abuse is occurring.

Staying in regular contact and spending time with the older people in your life will help you identify any potential issues. Most importantly, let them know you’re there for them, and willing to listen to their concerns.

While there is no simple fix for elder abuse, education is key. It’s critical that we encourage an open dialogue about the issue, while highlighting ways to identify and report it.

I encourage everyone to use this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day as a starting point for conversations with family and friends.

Saviour Buhagiar is director ageing at Uniting NSW.ACT

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Saviour Buhagiar

Saviour Buhagiar is director ageing at Uniting NSW.ACT

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