The Anglican Church has urged the sector to stand up, be counted and start the conversation about making it mandatory for aged and community care staff to report the suspected abuse of an older person.
The Church’s caring arm in Southern Queensland, Spiritus, used World Elder Abuse Awareness Day yesterday to call on families, the sector and government to reflect on disturbing trends of elderly abuse and to put in place preventative safeguards, such as effective personal monitoring of aged people.
“Some professionals in certain workplaces are required by law to report suspected abuse of children,” said Director of Spiritus Community and Aged Care, Della Warren.
“It could be that as a society we should now seriously be looking to further protect our senior citizens by making it mandatory for care workers and others to report suspected abuse to the authorities.
“Certainly, at Spiritus we require our care workers to do just that and we prepare them through the provision of professional standards, policies and processes to help guide our staff and ensure all incidents are properly investigated for the successful management of suspected abuse.”
Ms Warren referred to statistics released by the Queensland government, which indicated that its Elder Abuse Prevention Unit’s helpline took more than 1,500 crisis calls from concerned individuals over the last 12 months. This fact alone, she said, proves that elder abuse happens, and happens often.
“People living alone and in residential facilities can be vulnerable to all types of abuse and it is an important that there is a caring eye watching over and supporting them, which in the case of Spiritus is provided by our care workers.”
Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) also received 768 calls about elder abuse from July to December 2010. This figure contributed to 75 per cent of the total number of calls received by the organisation during the period.
Of the calls taken, 29 per cent related to psychological /emotional abuse, 25 per cent were cases of financial abuse, six per cent were physical and four percent were the result of neglect.
Jenny Blakey, manager of SRV, said that elder abuse as an unrecognised and under-reported occurrence that usually happens in the home away from public scrutiny.
“People are more aware of family violence and abuse, but don’t think about it occurring to older people,” Ms Blakey said.
A leading international gerontologist has also used the international awareness day to raise the issue of ageism and its relation to elder abuse.
Professor of Gerontology and Social Policy at the University of Melbourne, Simon Biggs, said that that the prevalence of ageism within the community increases the risk of older people experiencing elder abuse.
Also one of the authors of a UK study into the prevalence of elder abuse and mistreatment, Professor Briggs said that while reliable national data is not available in Australia, some Australian research suggests that 5 per cent of people presenting to aged-care and related services are subject to abuse.
Having a better understanding of the occurrence of elder abuse and its relationship to ageism within society can therefore derive more sustainable solutions to the problem.
“Ageism is as potent a form of discrimination as racism or sexism, and must be addressed through promotion of the rights of older people,” Professor Briggs said.
To speak to someone at the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit (QLD-based), call 1300 651 192.
To reach the Seniors Rights Victoria helpline, call 1300 368 821.