Recently it seems like we've been inundated, if not overwhelmed, in the media with terrible stories of abuse – child sexual abuse, disability abuse, and men abusing their partners. But there has been little mention of elder abuse: one of the most misunderstood and insidious forms of abuse in our society.
Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and it’s a good opportunity to discuss this terrible abuse.
In December last year I was appointed by the State Government as an Ambassador to raise awareness of elder abuse.
I have found it particularly worrying that many older people, even victims themselves, are unaware of what elder abuse is, and even sometimes that they are being abused themselves.
One of my priorities as Ambassador is working on the prevention of elder abuse, and the best way to do that is to get the issue out in the open, rather than something that is locked up in families.
So what is elder abuse?
Elder abuse can take many forms, and essentially it boils down to a trusted person such as a close friend or family member imposing undue influence, restriction or control over an older person against their will.
Abuse can be financial – such as taking the older person's money or banking details for personal use.
Abuse can be by neglect – failing to provide proper care such as adequate food, and over or under medicating an older person.
Abuse can be physical or emotional – physically or verbally abusing or threatening the older person.
Most disturbing of all is that the vast majority of elder abuse is perpetrated by an adult child, or a sibling or partner of the older person, or by someone they trust.
That's right - the people they love and trust the most are the ones abusing them. And too often other friends and family fail to see, or fail to act on this abuse.
How can that be happening when we should be respecting the enormous contribution of older people to the very fabric of our society?
What can be done to prevent abuse occurring in the first place?
We all need to learn to recognise elder abuse – then open our eyes and open our ears and check on our own parents, grandparents, relatives or older friends.
When the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence Fiona Richardson announced my appointment in December she summed it up perfectly.
Elder abuse is a form of family violence that must be addressed as a priority to ensure older individuals are kept safe.
One of the first ways a perpetrator tries to hide their abuse is by isolating the person from their family and friends so they are powerless to discuss what his happening to them, or interact in the community. We need to stay connected so we are aware of what is happening to those we love.
If you are an older person, then stay active and in regular communication with your wider family and friends and discuss your wishes and aspirations. Do not let yourself become isolated and exercise real care about your financial management. Where appropriate seek independent advice before being pressured into handing over funds or power of attorney.
And there is one other message from me as Ambassador. Let’s turn around the language far too many people use when speaking about older people. Let’s ensure we give older people the respect they deserve as they age.
If older people need support or advice, there are a range of options such as Seniors Rights , a state government funded telephone support and information and free legal service (1300 368 8210); your doctor or health provider, or the Office of the Public for advice about Powers of Attorney and guardianship (1300 309 337).
You may also have a close family member or friend that you trust that you can discuss these matters with. If you are experiencing abuse and are under imminent threat or risk, contact Victoria Police on triple-zero and request assistance.
Commissioner for Senior Victorians
Gerard Mansour is a passionate advocate for the rights and needs of older Victorians, with more than 25 years’ experience working in the aged and wider community service sectors. He has contributed significantly to policy development and implementation of services assisting senior Victorians.