Families most likely to abuse elderly

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THE startling and growing problem of seniors’ abuse is the focus of a forum in Hastings next week.

Discussion will centre on protection of seniors’ rights and their money, will and powers of attorney.

Seniors’ Rights Victoria manager Jenny Blakey said the Mornington Peninsula’s increasing number of elderlies were often victims of abuse by family members, neighbours and former friends.

Their age, infirmity, reliance on others and over-riding desire to “do the right thing” makes them vulnerable.

“It’s unfortunate that people on the peninsula are experiencing this sort of abuse,” Ms Blakey said. “We know about child abuse but the issues go on into old age.”

She described the issue as any abuse or neglect of elderlies by those they previously trusted.

“Most frequently it is abuse by adult sons or daughters on their parents, or by wives, husbands or de facto partners.

“Usually, it is over a long time frame – 50 or 60 years – and we work with people over those sorts of times frames.”

Abuse is debilitating on the victims who suffer physical and emotional wounds – and also have to endure the shame of it happening to them.

“In some cases, an adult son or daughter may ask – or even tell – their parents that they want them to look after their child. Whether the parents want to or not is irrelevant,” Ms Blakey said.

“The issue can start with good intentions but the grandparents may feel their lives are being taken over, that they have lost control, and the situation often slides towards a nasty end.”

This ageism reflects the common belief that the needs and care of the aged do not matter.

“It’s a misplaced sense of entitlement, she said. We are in a youth-focused society.”   

Ms Blakey said abuse can extend from “nicking” money from purses or wallets, forging signatures, taking property with the “promise” of returning it to physical and emotional bullying. This may include threats, verbal abuse, and isolation.

Some victims are kept at home, not allowed to answer the phone, deprived of food, medication, and even a secure place to sleep.

“We learned of one elderly peninsula man who has been forced to sleep in the shed,” Ms Blakey said. “Frequently, physical or social abuse accompanies other forms of abuse. Victims become scared and compliant. If they complain other threats are made to send them to a home.”

Peninsula Advisory Community of Elders (PACE) volunteer Jeanette Lane gives another example of abuse: “An elderly couple on the southern peninsula receiving disability pensions asked their adult son to handle their Centrelink affairs and to switch them over to the aged pension. The son began collecting their money regularly – but would only dole out a trifling $20 a week. After the parents complained he grudgingly increased the handouts to $40 a week. Months later – and increasingly worried – the couple checked their bank account to find they had nothing left.”

The son had used his new-found power to empty it.

Ms Blakey said staff at peninsula banks sometimes queried elderly residents over unexplained, suspicious withdrawals. However, the victims would gloss over these incidents, too proud or protective to admit foul-play.

The peninsula’s high proportion of elderlies – often living in lower socio-economic circumstances – may be at the high end of the 10 per cent suffering abuse.

She said anyone affected should call Seniors Rights Victoria’s free, confidential helpline (1300 368 821). Interpreters are available.

“We honour the trust shown to us and respect the choices our clients make,” she said.

The forum on abuse of the elderly runs 10am-12.30pm, Wednesday 13 May, at Hastings Community Hub, 1973 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Hastings (Melway 154 G8).

Free transport can be arranged for peninsula residents. Call 1800 064 784 or 9783 3600 or email pclc@pclc.org.au

First published in the Mornington News – 5 May 2015

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