4 simple ways to prevent elder abuse
Preventing and combatting elder abuse requires planning and an understanding of the warning signs and risk factors, writes Marie Brownell, National Manager, Estate Planning, Equity Trustees.
Elder abuse is a topic that is gaining increasing attention in Australia, particularly as our population continues to age. By 2050 it is estimated that the number of Australians aged 85 and over will hit 1.8 million, up from 400,000 in 20101.
While there is currently no national data on the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia, studies suggest that around one in 20 people aged 65 and over has experienced some form of abuse2.
The term ‘elder abuse’ covers a range of harmful behaviours. One of the most common types is financial abuse, where an elderly person has their funds or assets improperly or illegally accessed. However, there are a number of other forms, including physical or emotional abuse, neglect, and abuse by service providers such as professionals and tradespeople.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps that can be taken to prevent elder abuse or intervene if you believe it is occurring.
- Plan for the future. If you are an older person, it is important to put a sound plan in place well before you become vulnerable or incapacitated. Nominating an enduring Power of Attorney (POA) or guardian who can make legal, financial and lifestyle decisions on your behalf is a key part of this process.While a child may seem like the natural choice, they are not always the right choice – particularly if you don’t always see eye to eye. Your POA should be someone who you consider to be 100% reliable and trustworthy. This could be a family member or someone outside the family such as a family friend or professional.If you choose a professional attorney, they will be on the lookout for any decline in your capacity over time and can watch for any signs of financial abuse, for example by checking your accounts for any changes in spending patterns. Specialist attorneys, such as the team at Equity Trustees, will not only manage your financial affairs and be on the look-out for signs of elder abuse, but can also help with other services, such as providing regular check ins and organising in-home care services.
- Avoid becoming isolated. Elderly people who are isolated not only have limited opportunities to interact with others but are more vulnerable to elder abuse. For many, this can happen when they are no longer able to drive or when they become less mobile, making it more difficult to get around.The solution could be as simple as finding a friendly local Uber driver to provide transport to shops or regular activities. It is also worth getting to know the services and charities in your area that are catered to older people. This could be a social group that offers transport or charities which are focused on tackling isolation in the elderly.
- Look out for warning signs. Being aware of the signs of elder abuse is important for family members or carers of an older person.Someone who is being mistreated may suddenly behave differently, avoid leaving their home or appear quieter or more anxious than usual. There may also be changes in their physical appearance, such as a lack of grooming or unexplained bruises or fractures.You should also look out for any financial inconsistencies. Examples include irregularities on bank accounts or credit cards, large sums of money or assets being transferred, the person being asked to guarantee loans or mortgages on someone else’s behalf or signs they have taken up a product or service they usually don’t use.
- Speak up. If you are an older Australian who is unhappy with the care you are receiving, speak up and let a trusted person know the situation.Friends and family of an elderly person should also be aware that many cases of elder abuse are hidden and go unreported, often due to fear or reprisals or because the abuser is a family member. If you suspect abuse is taking place, raise the alarm with a community group, contact a lawyer or, if a criminal act is suspected, get in touch with the police.We all have a responsibility to advocate for older people if they are unable or unwilling to speak for themselves. While elder abuse can raise complex social and legal issues, calling it out is essential and shows your loved one that help is at hand.