Elder abuse 'a lot nastier' amid rise in reported cases

A jump in reports of elder abuse has prompted authorities to ask more victims to come forward.

Victoria Police received more than 5700 reports in the year to March, an increase of more than 40 per cent over the past five years.

Any act that causes harm to an older person is considered elder abuse by police, who say it occurs regardless of a person’s gender, sexuality, culture, ethnicity, religious or socio-economic background.

The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study released in 2021 found one in six people aged 65 or older across Australia suffered some form of abuse over a 12-month period.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Lauren Callaway said elder abuse was often at the hands of someone a victim knows, such as a family member or paid carer.

“Some abuse involves psychological manipulation and intimidation, the threat that if you don’t do this or that we will put you in an aged care home," she said.

“There could also be adult children trying to sell the house without consent, or maybe the older family member is forced into childcare or other work against their will.”

Police say there has been a particularly high jump in reports of financial abuse, which they attribute to cost-of-living pressures.

Elder abuse can take many other forms such as physical, emotional or social abuse, as well as neglect.

Examples include forcing someone to change their will, assault or threatening harm, threatening pets, stopping people from doing activities they enjoy, or failing to provide basic necessities.

National Ageing Research Institute spokeswoman Bianca Brijnath said elder abuse is under-reported and rates have also likely gone up around the country.

She partly attributed the jump in Victoria to the effects of six COVID-19 lockdowns, which saw some care to older people withdrawn due to restrictions. 

It could also be viewed as part of the overall increase in family violence during that time.

"It also got a lot nastier, in the sense of the types of abuse that were presenting to hospital were very much around physical abuse and neglect," Professor Brijnath told AAP.

"Whereas at other times we've seen much more presentations for financial abuse and psychological abuse, but I suspect (with) financial abuse, the after effects of it are now starting to come through."

The federal attorney-general has commissioned a review of the most recent plan to address elder abuse and Prof Brijnath hopes future strategies will focus on developing a nationally consistent approach and adequately resourcing services.

Ian Henschke from National Seniors Australia said awareness of elder abuse was growing, and it was hard to tell if incidents were increasing or more victims were finally coming forward.

"It's difficult to draw a link saying that elder abuse is on the rise," Mr Henschke said.

"What we know is that people are reporting it more and that state governments in particular are taking notice of it and some police departments around the country are actually putting on specialised elder abuse units."

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