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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is commemorated each year on 15 June. This annual event acknowledges the prevalence of elder abuse, educates communities and individuals to recognise the signs, and encourages loved ones and victims to speak up and seek support and assistance.

What is elder abuse and what can you do about it?

What is elder abuse?

It’s hard to imagine that somebody would harm, intimidate or take advantage of an aged and vulnerable person. Unfortunately, however, elder abuse occurs within our society and sadly, the perpetrators are often those entrusted with caring for our older generation. Elder abuse can be defined as a single or ongoing act or omission that causes harm or distress to an aged person. Abuse can generally be categorised as:

  • physical - pushing, shoving, rough treatment or sexual abuse;
  • neglect - failing to provide adequate necessities and/or maintain hygiene;
  • psychological - emotional abuse, social segregation, ridiculing and belittling;
  • financial exploitation – unauthorised use of a person’s property or money.

The conduct causing the harm is usually carried out in circumstances where there is an expectation of trust between the victim and perpetrator who is, ironically, often a caregiver or family member.

According to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2017 National Legal Response to Elder Abuse, psychological abuse and financial exploitation are the most common types experienced and, in many cases, these categories co-exist.

Specific examples of psychological abuse include bullying and harassment, treating an elderly person as a child or as somebody lacking intelligence or mental capacity, threatening to send the person to a nursing home or depriving him or her of seeing certain family members or friends. Financial abuse occurs when a person illegally and improperly uses an elderly person’s financial resources or property for their own, or a third party’s, benefit. This could happen in any number of ways, such as:

  • misusing a power of attorney and/or making unauthorised withdrawals from a bank account through an ATM or an internet transfer;
  • depriving an elderly person access to his / her own funds or property;
  • manipulating an elderly person into gifting or loaning money or transferring assets;
  • putting a person under duress to include certain provisions in a will or to change an existing will; and
  • pressuring a person to give a power of attorney or appointment of an enduring guardian.

Identifying and responding to elder abuse

In Western Australia, there are several centres, helplines and resource units to assist those experiencing or affected by elder abuse as well as tribunals or courts that deal with disputes and issues concerning allegations of abuse.

If you are a victim of elder abuse you can speak with somebody you trust about your concerns, obtain advice from one of the organisations linked below, or contact a lawyer.

If you suspect somebody you care about is a victim of elder abuse you should raise your concerns with that person before suggesting a plan to obtain help and move forward. You may notice an elderly friend or relative becoming reclusive or missing social events, having insufficient funds to pay for necessities or outgoings (particularly when compared with their financial position), suddenly becoming friendly with a new carer or a person showing special interest in the elderly person, hovering around or constantly speaking for that person. Because the purported abuser is often a relative or somebody presumably close to the older person, it can be difficult and challenging to identify and address cases of elder abuse. It is even more complex if the alleged abuser has been appointed power of attorney for the victim. Sometimes the older person may not even realise they are the subject of abuse as they may be quite dependent on their perpetrator or may have some degree of mental incapacity. In such cases, it is wise to seek advice from a lawyer.

The lawyers at Douglas Cheveralls Lawyers may provide advice about legal issues that arise from elder abuse, particularly issues surrounding financial abuse. Other contacts that may provide assistance include: