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  • Writer's pictureDeirdre May

Elder Abuse, an aged-old problem? | Part One

I think my brother is withdrawing cash from my mum’s bank account and using it for himself. My uncle has suddenly become withdrawn, depressed, angry and does not want to engage in social activities like he used to. My elderly neighbour mentioned something about being forced to sell the house.

Elder abuse has become a hot topic in recent years but is not a new problem. The publication, Elder Abuse, a National Legal Response, issued in 2016 after the national inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) into elder abuse in New South Wales is grim reading.

What is Elder Abuse? Elder abuse is any act or omission causing harm or distress to an older person carried out by someone they know and trust. The abuse can be unintentional or deliberate. The harm can be physical (pushing, shoving, general rough handling), sexual, psychological and emotional (treating someone like a child, threatening to put someone in a nursing home, threatening to withdraw affection, name-calling, bullying, and verbal harassment) or financial (includes stealing money or goods and possessions, abusing Power of Attorney arrangements, living with a person without contributing to expenses, forcing someone to sign a document like a Will or contract or transfer of property) or forging of signatures. It can be a single or repeated deliberate act, or lack of appropriate action, including neglect.

Who are the abuser of old people? Most often it is someone known to and trusted by the elderly person. Usually, it is carried out by someone close to an older person. This could be a son, daughter, partner, grandchild, other family members, friend, neighbour, carer.

When should I be worried? What are the signs I should look for? Abuse is sometimes obvious, but abuse can also be subtle and hard to recognise. Indicators can include, sudden changes in mood, tearfulness, depression, unusual passivity or anger, changes to appetite, sleep patterns, physical symptoms such as bruising, burns, change in personal hygiene, unkempt appearance, social withdrawal or isolation, sudden inability to pay bills like rent, buy food or participate in social activities, new “best friends”, unexplained disappearance of belongings, significant bank withdrawals. Some of these signs may be present and abuse may not be the cause but should require you to be attentive and monitor any further changes in that person.



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