Age Concern New Zealand

Serving the needs of older people
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Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention services most effective

Age Concern New Zealand media release - October 21

Any steps to further address the issue of elder abuse and neglect is welcomed by Age Concern New Zealand.

However, the organisation maintains that the most effective way to do this is to strengthen the current elder abuse and neglect prevention (EANP) services.

Age Concern New Zealand EANP national advisor Louise Collins says this will build on existing expertise, knowledge and strengths and provides the most effective and accessible services for older people in need.

Mrs Collins says that throughout the country Age Concern provides 23 EANP services employing trained and skilled professionals, and that these services are known, trusted and respected in their communities.

The organisation also provides coordination, support, training and leadership for the five other EANP services not part of Age Concern.

Mrs Collins says Age Concern could provide more services if the organisation received more funding.

“Most elder abuse is committed by family members and most older people do not want their cases dealt with through the courts.  We know that family are very important to older people and often the alleged abuser is the only person that the older person has any significant social contact with.”

Mrs Collins says Age Concern works closely with older people and their families to restore relationships and resolve issues of abuse and ensure it does not reoccur.

“It can be as simple as us talking with the older person’s bank and getting their pin numbers changed, or arranging for an Enduring Power of Attorney to be revoked, if necessary.”

Mrs Collins says that in New Zealand the most commonly reported types of elder abuse are financial abuse and psychological abuse.

"Some people think that because someone is old it doesn’t matter what happens to them anymore or they don’t need money to spend.

“They make decisions for the older person without even asking them what it is they want. Or, they ridicule them about the decisions they do make. Sometimes, they pressure older people into doing things they don’t really want to do – like giving a loan, selling their house or letting a family member move in with them for free. Attitudes like these show a lack of respect for the older person, for their quality of life and for their needs.”

Between 70 and 80 percent of elder abuse and neglect in New Zealand occurs at the hands of family members. About half of abusers are adult children and about half of the abused elders are over 80-years-old.

“This is one of the reasons it stays hidden. Many older people feel ashamed their own flesh and blood is treating them badly, so they won't talk about it,” Mrs Collins said.

“We know that family are very precious to older people, and try to get a win-win result when there are difficulties with family relationships. We help people recognise that older people have a lot to contribute and are very valuable members of families and the community.”

Mrs Collins said that EANP services nationwide now receive almost 2000 referrals each year.

“That is an average of eight calls per working day about older people suspected of being abused or neglected. In over half of these cases, abuse or neglect is confirmed,” she said.

“We know that's just the tip of the iceberg. But it doesn't have to be this way. And, the more people understand about elder abuse and what they can do to stop it, the better.”