As our population ages, there is also a growing concern about elder abuse which leaves older Australians vulnerable to financial abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse (or emotional abuse), and neglect. According to the National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study 2021, one in every six people over the age of 65 experienced abuse during a 12-month period. People with poor physical or psychological health and higher levels of social isolation are more likely to experience elder abuse.
Policy responses to concerns about elder abuse have focused on the need for a multi-layered approach. Building awareness within the community and within the health and aged care systems are important steps in acknowledging the issue and supporting recognition of instances of abuse. Human rights and aged care and health care rights provide a framework that formalises not only the rights of individuals but the responsibilities of health professionals and service providers. The need for support and advocacy for affected older people has also been strengthened with the establishment of the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN).
While there is little published literature of elder abuse in a palliative care context, services and palliative care professionals need to be aware of elder abuse. Older people coming to the end of their lives can be socially isolated and are often dependent on the family for care needs. Neglect by family or services, as well as self-neglect, may be seen. Palliative care service providers may need to review the circumstances as family or carer’s burden and stress may also influence their behaviour.
There are practical steps that all palliative care groups can undertake to address this issue. They can make sure that older people and their families and carers are aware of their rights under the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights and the Charter of Aged Care Rights. They can provide details on online learning about elder abuse to build and share information on state and national resources. palliAGED provides a range of useful practice resources on elder abuse that can be used.
Finally, we can all participate in World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June 2022 and join in the online conference hosted by ARAS on Friday 17 June 2022, which will focus on building resilience.
- Qu, L., Kaspiew, R., Carson, R., Roopani, D., De Maio, J., Harvey, J., Horsfall, B. (2021). National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study: Final Report. (Research Report). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.