168 cases of elder abuse dealt with in past year

Growing issue . . . Age Concern Otago elder abuse response service social worker Marie Bennett says the issue of financial abuse of older people is complex and growing. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

An extraordinary sense of entitlement felt among some families, leading to shocking cases of financial abuse, is a source of great concern for Age Concern Otago.

“We regularly get cases of family members who feel no compunction about helping themselves to their ‘inheritance’ while their elderly parents are still living,” the organisation’s elder abuse response service team leader, Marie Bennett, said.

“And that is financial abuse.”

In the past 12 months, Age Concern Otago has dealt with 168 cases of elder abuse in Dunedin and wider Otago, 116 of which are closed and 52 still active. Of the closed cases, 62 (or 53%) involved financial abuse.

In the year to June 2017, Age Concern elder abuse response services in New Zealand were informed of about 2295 cases of suspected abuse and intervened in 1736 cases.

Of these 79% involved psychological abuse and 54% financial abuse. Family members made up 76% of the alleged abusers.

It is estimated that up to 10% of people aged 65 or over in New Zealand are victims of elder abuse or neglect, which equates to 3170 cases in Otago.

Ms Bennett said demand for the response service remained consistently high, and many cases were complex.

“It is very sad for the older people when their family, who are the people they are meant to be able to trust, take all their money,” she said.

Tomorrow is World Elder Abuse Day, and Age Concern is determined to highlight the issue of financial abuse.

Age Concern Otago executive officer Debbie George said the shame or stigma meant people did not always report abuse happening within their family.

“This is one of the reasons it stays hidden,” Ms George said.

“Many older people feel ashamed their own flesh and blood are treating them badly, so they won’t talk about it.”

Ms Bennett said a new issue had begun to arise in recent years, with an increase in the number of grandparents raising grandchildren and approaching the service for help.

“In general, we get quite a high number of self-referrals, which is a very good thing.

“I really want older people to protect themselves and think seriously about discussing their situation with someone outside of the family before making decisions.”

Ms Bennett works with Dunedin’s multidisciplinary Elder Abuse Advisory Panel, which includes police, lawyers, Work and Income, the Southern District Health Board, Age Concern Otago and a residential care facility representative.

Ms George said the help of the whole community was needed to stop elder abuse.

“We need families to stand up and make sure they all play a part protecting our older people and asking for our help if they suspect any abuse is happening,” she said.

If you suspect an older person is not being treated well, or want to report abuse, phone Marie Bennett at Age Concern Otago on 479-3053. If there is a crisis or emergency, dial 111.