Elder abuse comes in all shapes and sizes. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to not recognise a situation or a behaviour as elder abuse. While older adults are absolutely entitled to make their own choices and decision, they can also be vulnerable and targeted for exploitation due to this vulnerability. Let me make one thing clear from the onset – elder abuse is never acceptable.
Elder abuse takes many forms. It can be physical harm, psychological harm, financial harm, chemical restraints, or physical restraints such restricting ones movements with ties, tables, bed rails, locks and so on. Elder abuse must be stamped out. It has no place in our society. It is inacceptable and intolerable.
It is a subject that has been brought to my attention numerous times over my many years of working as a case manager in the community setting. Some of the examples of elder abuse that I have witnessed are included below. Most of the time abuse experienced by older adults living in the community happens at the hands of family, friends or neighbours.
Mrs F, 86, was widowed and lived in her own home. One day her grand-daughter advised that she and her toddler son would be moving in. Mrs F was very excited. We all were as it meant she would have extra support and company. However, it very quickly turned into a nightmare. It started harmlessly enough with Mrs F expected to babysit at all hours of the night when her grand-daughter went out after work. Pretty soon Mrs F was getting very stressed and not feeling well. I asked her what was happening and she was reluctant to tell me initially. She was embarrassed and she did not want her grand-daughter getting into trouble. What she told me sent alarm bells ringing in my head! Her grand-daughter would take Mrs F’s car to work, leaving Mrs F stranded at home, impacting her independence and social activity greatly. The grand-daughter would play mind-games with Mrs F, and would turn off the electricity at the mains switch so that during the hot summer days Mrs F could not access the air-conditioner. She would hide keys and other items so that Mrs F could not locate them. The grand-daughter was manipulative and psychologically abusing her grandmother. I contacted Senior’s Rights Victoria who arranged a legal representative to meet with Mrs F, record all the events, and sent the grand-daughter an eviction letter. The day the letter arrived Mrs F was terrified of what would happen when her grand-daughter opened it. But nothing happened – humiliated that she had been caught out, her grand-daughter read the letter in silence, went to her room, and announced the next day she was moving out.
Although no one got hurt in the long-term, this was absolutely an example of elder abuse.
I have seen children of older adults withhold food, warmth and medications because they want to keep the money for themselves. That is elder abuse.
I have seen children sell off assets right under their elderly parents noses, for their own financial gain. That is elder abuse.
I have seen a daughter send her elderly mother overseas to visit family one last time. While the mother was gone the daughter forged her signature and sold the family home. When the lady came back she had nowhere to live and ended up in poverty, in a residential facility. That is elder abuse.
I have seen family members lock a loved one living with dementia inside the home. That is elder abuse.
I have seen a stressed wife smack her husband (wheelchair bound and living with Parkinsonian dementia) because he would not comply with her wishes. Her lack of understand of his condition, and their cultural beliefs about how he should be acting, was a huge obstacle to overcome. However, ignorance is no excuse for physical abuse.
I have seen doctors prescribe sedatives to keep loved ones living with dementia calm and sleepy so that family could better “manage their behaviours”. That is elder abuse. By the way – the only behaviours that need managing are your approach to the person living with dementia.
I have seen families decline help in the home because they don’t want their elderly parent spending money. That is elder abuse.
I have seen families move their parent out of the family home so that they could move in. This is elder abuse.
Blocking or restricting someone’s ability to move around freely is abuse.
Denying an older adult nutritious food, warmth, cooling, electricity, gas, medications or any treatments they require, appropriate mobility aids, continence aids, comfortable shoes and clothes, fresh water to drink, access to television and radio, access to their money, holding onto their bank cards, access to telephone, access to friends and family, access to social activities, exercise outdoors, a clean and hygienic home environment – all of these, plus many more, are an abuse of the rights of all our seniors.
I know that speaking up is frightening, and many abuse victims remain silent for fear of retaliation by the person conducting the abuse. I also understand that it can be very difficult for an older adult to make a complaint against their son or daughter – nobody wants to do that. But know that you are not alone, and there are people and organisations in place that are here to support you and advocate on your behalf.
Everyone has the right to live with dignity and safety.
If you have any concerns at all about how you, as an older adult you know are being treated, or you suspect that a friend, neighbour, your parents, or your client is being abused in any way please contact Senior’s Right Victoria Legal Service for help. They undertake casework for matters involving abuse, exploitation and discrimination against our older adults.
We are here to support you too, so please reach out if you want our help in any way.
I truly hope that this information has been helpful. Even if one person reads this and reaches out for support then we have made a positive difference.
Senior’s Right Victoria Legal Service website.
Senior’s Right Victoria have a Toolkit for Service Providers.
Senior’s Right Victoria have an Assets for Care guide for lawyers.