What to do when you suspect elder abuse? Trust your gut!

Age Concern is a charity dedicated to helping older New Zealanders have a great later life. Supporting people who are experiencing elder abuse is part of their DNA. 
Elder abuse occurs when an older person is harmed through the actions of those they trust.  No one is immune. It can happen to men and women of every culture, faith, ethnicity, and socio-economic group. 

Unfortunately, elder abuse is prevalent in New Zealand but often not reported.  But we can all play our part in speaking up, so older Kiwis can be free from the fear, mental anguish, emotional pain, and distress the elder abuse causes. 
Many people think it won’t happen to them or to someone in their family, so it is confronting when it does. However, Age Concerns say they would rather people seek support early, rather than let it go and escalate.
It affects those who own a great deal, those who own very little, and all those in-between who have managed to save and invest enough to cover their needs for their own retirement years.

“If we all acted on the inkling we have when something seems a bit off, older people’s lives and dignity would be saved,” she says.

“Elder abuse is a hard issue to raise, and it is often underreported due to the perceived shame that may bring on a family. But we cannot turn a blind eye anymore because people’s choices are being disregarded, they are not getting the care they need, and their voices are not being listened to in these situations.”

How can I tell if someone is being abused or neglected?
The following signs may indicate an older person is being abused:

  • unexplained behaviour, sleeping or eating habits
  • fearfulness and edginess
  • confusion
  • unexplained injuries
  • drowsiness (due to over-medication)
  • recoiling from touch
  • unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
  • unpaid bills, lack of money for necessities.

“Please trust your gut and get in touch with us, we know talking to someone early on is a game-changer, says Billings-Jensen.
Elder abuse and neglect have a negative impact on the well-being and quality of life of older people. As a result, older people’s lives are devalued. 
The personal losses associated with abuse can be devastating and include the loss of independence, homes, life savings, health, dignity, and security. It damages family/whānau relationships, financial security, and mental and physical health, increasing dependency on health and support agencies which may result in the need for residential care.” 

How you can help – 10 tips to be kind and prevent abuse

  • Love and cherish your older relatives
  • Phone, zoom, or facetime older people
  • Visit older people in your neighbourhood
  • Involve kaumātua in your social activities
  • Encourage older people to make their own decisions
  • Support older people to use their money for their needs
  • Honour kaumātua’s wisdom
  • Enable older people to set their own pace
  • Speak respectfully and listen to older people’s stories
  • Seek advice from any Elder Abuse Service or Age Concern if you think an older person is being abused or neglected.

Join the movement to fight ageism?

Stand against ageism with us and sign up on www.ageconcern.org.nz as an Age Concern New Zealand Dignity Champions and pledge to:

  • Reject stereotypes and focus on the uniqueness of every individual
  • Speak up when you hear people speaking negatively about growing old
  • Have the courage to question practices they feel are disrespectful to older people
  • Be patient, polite, and friendly
  • Have zero tolerance for abuse or neglect
  • Build relationships. 

Report it!

If you or someone you know has questions about elder abuse, they can get in touch with their local Age Concern for free and confidential advice and support www.ageconcern.org.nz or freephone 0800 65 2 105. If it is a crisis or emergency, and someone’s safety is at risk please call the emergency services on 111.

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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