Prevent elder abuse. That’s like saying, Prevent domestic violence. Or prevent child abuse. At first glance, preventing abuse seems an impossible task. But there are steps we can take to prevent elder abuse.
Elder abuse is ‘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’ (World Health Organization).
It is not ‘granny bashing’ by strangers. It is not assault and robbery in home-invasions. Or theft of bags in shopping centres. It does not include maltreatment of residents in aged care facilities.
Violence against older people is part of the cycle of intimate or family abuse.
Figures about elder abuse in Australia are rubbery. Available statistics are mainly concerned with financial abuse. Financial abuse may not be the most prevalent. But financial abuse is easy to quantify. Victims may be less reluctant to talk about financial abuse than say, physical or psychological abuse.
Elder abuse is perpetrated by those with whom an older person trusts. Adult children and grandchildren. Daughters- and sons-in-law and step-children. Sometimes close friends.
Physical and mental frailty increase vulnerability.Fitter, active, alert older people are less likely to be maltreated than the frail aged.
Twelve steps to prevent elder abuse
- Care for your health. Eat properly, drink alcohol in moderation, don’t smoke.
- Stay active physically. Do weight-bearing exercise. Walk, swim. Dance, play with grandchildren. Do the housework. Garden. Lift weights.
- Have regular medical checks. Follow the advice of your general practitioner. If he or she suggests ill-health is due to age or the ageing process, run as fast as you can. Find another GP. One who is more knowledgeable and respectful.
- Be mentally active. Pursue hobbies, read, learn something new every day. Travel.
- Keep socially connected. Maintain old friendships and make new ones. Don’t wait for invitations. Invite friends and family for simple meals. Go out for coffee. Volunteer. Join groups of like-minded people. Participate in community and church groups.
- Understand your finances. Learn everything you can about your finances. Some people leave it to their partners or others to do the banking and deal with superannuation and social security payments. The competent partner may die first. The other person will be left floundering, unsure about managing finances. That’s the perfect opportunity for a third party to offer to ‘help’. Just saying!
- Make a valid will. Keep it up to date. Change it if your circumstances change.
- Consider donating Enduring Power of Attorney. Due illness or injury, a person may not be able to make financial decisions. The holder of a PoA can make those decisions on someone else’s behalf. Be aware, though, that this is not a foolproof method of safeguarding yourself from elder abuse. Even Powers of Attorney can be abused by those in positions of trust.
- Be careful about sharing your resources. This is a hard one. Going guarantor for a relative’s debt, for example, is fraught with danger.. It is hard to say ‘No’ to loved children and grandchildren. But circumstances can change quickly. You may be left responsible for their debt. You may lose everything, including your home Similarly, don’t lend money. Give it away. Just don’t expect repayment!
- Make a list of five people in your circle that you know you can talk to about serious and personal matters. Include people who are outside your family. Think about personal friends, a general practitioner, a minister of the church or someone where you volunteer.
- Talk about problems and find solutions. This should be one of the most obvious actions anyone can take. About any problem. But too often, shame prevents people from talking about difficulties. It may feel shameful that someone we love and trust is abusing us. But they will continue unless stopped. There is nothing so bad that we cannot share it with someone. If you are being abused, or think you might be abused, keep talking until someone takes notice. Call an agency such as Advocare. They can help with elder abuse issues.
- Discuss with friends how to prevent elder abuse. Pass on information about it and help all older people stay safe.
Call Advocare on 9479 7566for free, confidential and independent service