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Elder abuse could worsen during Covid-19.

It’s sobering to think that during Covid-19, just as the risk of death from domestic violence will go up, so will deaths as a consequence of elder abuse.

Colette Bots, Director, Family, Domestic Violence and Elder Law Practice at Caxton Legal Centre, pointed out in relation to Covid-19 in a recent article in Community Care Review: “We must consider innovative ways to raise awareness about social isolation and elder abuse during this critical time.”

There are no exact figures on deaths from elder abuse, because it can be very hard to prove and our society doesn’t invest in noticing it.

But statistics gathered by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2018 suggest there could be up to 100,000 incidents throughout Australia per year. It also notes that almost four times as many new incidents of abuse, neglect, and exploitation were not reported as those that were reported to and substantiated by adult protective services agencies and/or ombudsman entities during the period it studied.

So that means there could be as many 400,000 cases in Australia, it warns.

Earlier work done by Lillian Jeter before 2011, research still used to inform strategies to deal with the problem, points out that: “The typical target is a frail, ailing woman more than 70 years old. In most cases, the victim and the abuser live in the same household in social isolation from friends, neighbours, and kin who might otherwise informally deter the wrongdoing.”

This is consistent with World Health Organisation (WHO) data. It estimates that up to 90 per cent of abusers of the elderly are actually family members. It says the abuse happens in the home behind closed doors and that most abusers are children, spouses and partners.

Australian work shows similar patterns. The Australian Institute of Family Studies research report on elder abuse of February 2016 Elder Abuse: Understanding Issues, Frameworks and Responses, by Rae Kaspiew, Rachel Carson and Helen Rhoades reported on this in detail. This can be found at: https://aifs.gov.au/publications/elder-abuse.

They note that in Australia financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse. But psychological abuse is only slightly less common and tends to occur with the financial abuse.  It warns that the problem will increase because the population is ageing.

But most telling, it says that in Australia because of the way our health care and legal systems are structured, responding is complicated.

We’ve shone the spotlight on elder abuse in aged care institutions through the Royal Commission into Aged Care, which issues an interim report in October 2019. And we’re working our way through solutions to this problem.

But that still leaves the elderly in their own home vulnerable.

So the elderly, isolated at home right now and dependent on others to meet their needs are especially at risk while Covid-19 social restrictions are in place. These are to be eased somewhat on Friday in NSW, when two adults at a time will be allowed to visit someone else in their home, after an announcement made by Premier Gladys Berejiklian today, April 28. If they have young children they can come along too.

But there is still a big problem for us to address in this area, regardless of what we do about Covid-19 restrictions.

Strategies to prevent elder abuse, suggested by the WHO include:

The public can:

  •  watch for signs of elder abuse. (In Australia this needs greater awareness of it as a possibility)
  • learn how to get help and report abuse (In Australia we need to know how and where).

Older people themselves can:

  • stay connected to family and friends
  • learn more about their rights
  • use professional services for support, where available
  • make sure their financial and legal affairs are in order.

Family and informal care givers can lower the risk of committing abuse by learning ways to cope:

  • get help from family and friends
  • take breaks
  • get support from local health and social services.

To read Colette Bots piece Covid-19 raises elder abuse concerns, in Community Care Review, go to:http://- https://communitycarereview.com.au/2020/04/21/covid-19-raises-elder-abuse-concerns/

Psychologist Jane Turner’s suggestions about improving discussions about life in aged care facilities can be applied to the private home too. See this at:

https://good-grief.com.au/talking-about-end-of-life-in-aged-care-facilities/

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