According to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, about 3 per cent of people over 65 experience some kind of elder abuse. However, Australian research suggests the figure could be as high as 10 per cent.
And according to call data from the EAPU helpline, these figures are on the rise. Calls have increased substantially over the period it has been operating, from just over 200 calls in 2000-01 to almost 1,300 in 2014-15.
Elder abuse can take many forms and is defined by the WHO as ‘a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person’.
It can encompass physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse and can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.
Call data from EAPU over the past five years also provides a snapshot of elder abuse concerns. The most common age group of victims was 80-84 years, followed by 75-79 years and 68 per cent of calls were in relation to a female victim. Perpetrators of elder abuse were fairly evenly split between male and female, with half the calls relating to a male perpetrator and 45 percent female with the other 5 per cent unknown.
Statistics also showed that the perpetrator was in most cases a close relative, with children accounting for most cases (31 per cent sons, 29 per cent daughters), 10 percent were other relatives and 9 per cent of cases involved the victim’s own spouse or partner. The remaining 21 per cent fell into a combined category of neighbours, friends, workers and informal carers. The common thread being that it was a person that the elderly person held in a position of trust.
In the latest figures, financial abuse accounted for the majority of reports at 40 per cent of reports, compared to 35 per cent for psychological abuse, which had been the most common type up to 2012-13.
Bill Mitchell, principal solicitor at Townsville Community Legal Centre, says that while financial abuse is the most prevalent type of elder abuse, it almost always occurs alongside other forms of abuse.
“Financial abuse often happens in tandem with emotional and psychological abuse. It’s often not someone just secretly stealing money, it can be someone making threats to get money or it might be someone taking money using a power of attorney while also being verbally abusive or belittling,” says Mr Mitchell.
According to Mr Mitchell, when it comes to financial abuse there are many preventative measures that people can put in place.
“A good place to start is not allowing a person who has some potential of being an abuser to have access to your money. So, if you have concerns about someone don’t let them have access to your banking account or any form of banking details.
“Also make sure that you don’t appoint anyone you have concerns about into a position of responsibility such as an enduring power of attorney. I say to people that if you’re good friends with someone and you trust them implicitly with decisions, but they’ve had a gambling problem their whole life they may not be the best choice to be your attorney. They might be a great choice to talk over decisions that are important to you, but looking after your finances might not be their strong point. Choose wisely the people you trust with those decisions.”
The combination of financial abuse with other insidious forms of abuse such as psychological and emotional abuse can make it hard to keep a clear head when it comes to financial decision making. Many abusers gain the trust of their victim through deceit and charm which can make it hard for the victim and other relatives to realise that the abuse is even happening.
In these cases, it’s important to seek help when you start having concerns – whether that’s through reporting it to another friend or family member or by calling the Elder Abuse Helpline.
Other tips to help keep yourself safe from elder abuse:
Source: Elder Abuse Prevention Unit
If you or someone you know may be experiencing elder abuse, call the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192 for free, confidential advice (Queensland only, 9am–5pm, Monday to Friday).