‘Locked down with their abusers’

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Not okay . . . Age Concern Otago Elder Abuse Response Service team leader Marie Bennett says Covid-19 lockdown left older people vulnerable to abuse. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

The impact of Covid-19 has sent ripples across New Zealand society, including into the homes of older people at risk of elder abuse and neglect.

In Dunedin, Age Concern Otago Elder Abuse Response Service team leader Marie Bennett has logged 27 cases of elder abuse in the city in the past four to five weeks.

The abuse included financial abuse, violence, and the removal of the right of older people to make their own decisions, Ms Bennett said.

“As in other family harm situations, older people were locked down with their abusers,” she said.

“At the same time, there were fewer carers going into homes, and fewer opportunities for older people to talk about things with friends and social contacts.”

The Office of Seniors New Zealand has warned that the need for older people to maintain strict isolation during the Covid-19 crisis meant that they were more reliant on those around them than ever before.

It has also been a time of emotional and financial stress for many families.

Abusers are often someone an older person depends on for support or care, someone close, someone they trust. This can make it especially hard to speak up.

Ms Bennett said lockdown had been lonely and frustrating for many, but that generally older people had coped well.

“I think our older people are very resilient – needing to cope is not new to them, they have coped before and will do so again.”

Having operated remotely for the past 10 weeks due to Covid-19 restrictions, Ms Bennett praised the Dunedin police family violence team, work and income and the Southern DHB for their support.

“If someone was in danger, the police were there, which was very helpful,” she said.

“We are very lucky down here to have a responsive team that works well together to support older people.”

Ms Bennett expects the number of reported cases of elder abuse to remain high in the coming months, as older people take the opportunity to speak up.

“I think the amount of elder abuse going on in our community will remain high as the impact of Covid-19 continues to be felt.”

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is marked on June 15 every year, and is an opportunity to highlight the role we can all play in reducing elder abuse and neglect.

During Elder Abuse Awareness Week, Age Concern branches usually run events and activities. Due to the pandemic, this year most activities will be online.

Elder abuse

  • More than half of abused older people are over 75
  • 40% of abused older people live alone
  • 86% of cases include psychological abuse
  • 50% of cases involve financial abuse
  • 81% of alleged abusers are family members
  • 57% of alleged abusers are adult children or grandchildren
  • Abusers are both male and female