Abused elderly can get local assistance

LCHS elder abuse prevention and response liaison officer Deirdre Howard is a port of call for those seeking help. photograph anne simmons

LCHS elder abuse prevention and response liaison officer Deirdre Howard is a port of call for those seeking help. photograph anne simmons

One of the biggest barriers for elderly members of the community seeking help for abuse is the fact the abuse is coming from a close loved one, Latrobe Community Health Service elder abuse prevention and response liaison officer Deirdre Howard said.

"People often say 'what did I do wrong ... that my son or my daughter are treating me this way?' Often the people experiencing the abuse blame themselves," Ms Howard said.

Elder abuse comes in six guises, being psychological, financial, physical, sexual, social and neglect, however, Ms Howard said "you'll very rarely get one without something else".

Ms Howard said the abuse often crept in slowly, starting with something quite "innocent" such as the son or daughter of an elderly person claiming their parent's credit card to help care for them.

The child then feels a right to start spending some of the money on themselves for the time they have put into caring.

"That older person may then find they go to their bank account and pay for something like an energy bill ... and the money's not there," Ms Howard said.

Ms Howard said she had a case at the moment of someone sitting in their home in the cold unable to afford heating.

Attending fewer social engagements and appointments, such as with the hairdresser could be common signs of underlying abuse, as could poorer hygiene.

The state government last year introduced a new model of care for suspected elder abuse following the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and LCHS is one of the sites it has been deployed at. Ms Howard is a port of call for people experiencing abuse to disclose their situation and she can help link them with the right services.

She said elder abuse was a growing problem thanks to an ageing population, changing family structures and financial and social pressures around the Latrobe Valley which added further stresses to family dynamics.

"It is now recognised elder abuse is a form of family violence," Ms Howard said.

A common attitude in a family is when loved ones "mean well, but start to take over someone's life".

"People still have decision-making capacity, so even if people have some dementia ... they still should be consulted about what they want ... unless it's medically determined they don't," Ms Howard said.

Ms Howard reminded people that "as you get older, you do not lose your rights" and she could help people re-establish their rights and "go and live that life you wanted to live and expected to live".

LCHS in Morwell will have a display for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day until June 15 with information and handouts.

If you are an older person experiencing abuse, phone LCHS on 1800 242 696 and ask for the elder abuse officer.

If you fear for your safety, phone 000, and those in crisis, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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