Fraud Week 2016

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Conference 2016


The 15th of June 2016 marked World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, this year's theme being 'There's No Excuse for Abuse'.  Volunteer, Martin Lewis, represented COTA SA at the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2016 Conference held by Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS); in this blog post, Martin shares information and insights from the conference.


I feel very fortunate to have attended the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Conference in Adelaide on 16 June, 2016. The conference was presented by the Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS) at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

Through its role of advocacy, ARAS has a large involvement in assisting older Australians who seek assistance because of "elder abuse", and it is appropriate for the Service to present this conference, with the input of many organisations including SA Health Office of the Ageing, Aged Care Complaints Scheme, Aged Care providers, Nursing and Care services, etc.

Elder abuse takes many forms, and may not be obvious. Many people think of abuse as being physical or verbal in nature, but it is much more than that. Discriminating against a senior person on the basis of age is a form of abuse. Deprivation of freedom of choice, liberty, speech and service, to name a few, are also forms of abuse. The SA Office of the Ageing says that elder abuse can be financial, emotional, physical, or sexual.The abuser may be a person - a spouse or family member, a care giver, a service provider - or an organisation which deprives people of their freedom and liberty simply on the basis that they have reached a particular age.

Keynote Speaker - Rae Lamb, Aged Care Complaints Commissioner

The keynote speaker at the Conference was Ms Rae Lamb, who is the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner. This was a good way to start the day because of the strong message that senior citizens have the right to complain if they feel aggrieved at being unfairly treated. Between 2 and 10% of Australians are affected each year. Financial abuse, mostly committed by family members, is the most common complaint handled by the Commission. The Commissioner's role is to acknowledge and resolve issues, to protect the elder person and improve the situation.

The Commissioner's Office handles about 3,700 complaints by seniors (or their advocates) per year taking in about 9,000 issues. The orders made by the Commissioner are legally binding.

Many of the complaints dealt with by the Commissioner are the result of abuse suffered by recipients of aged care services which makes one wonder how the quality of Australian Aged Care services ranks internationally. Mr. Andrew Larpent, OBE is the CEO of Southern Cross Care (SA & NT). He is well qualified by international experience to compare Australian aged care with other countries and he reported that Australia's standard ranks highly internationally. There are many cultures in which the aged are treated with respect, even reverence, but not all. However, assumptions cannot be made about the absence or prevalence of elder abuse based on cultural backgrounds.

Within Australia there is a legal structure that invoked the compulsory reporting of elder abuse from 2007. Despite these compulsory reporting requirements, there does not appear to have been an increase in police charges or prosecutions. Some of the barriers to effective reporting include workplace culture, ageism and lack of workforce training and preparedness. Personally I wonder if the legal system is prepared, or able to follow reports through to an effective conclusion.

A Collaborative Approach - Professor Marie Beaulieu

Interestingly, in Montreal, Canada, Professor Marie Beaulieu (Research Chair on Mistreatment of Older Adults, University of Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada) related the results of a collaborative approach between relevant agencies, including police, ambulance and community aged care practitioners to aid in the prevention of elder abuse. The success of the three-year project has resulted in the production of a practice guide that has been produced to keep the practice alive. The strategies included:

• A public awareness program;
• Elder mistreatment helpline;
• Regional coordinators
• 30+ changes to actual aged care practice which were influenced by people "in the field";
• An inter-system approach using inter-agency professionals.

The factors aiding the success of the program include an inter-system approach (inter-agenies and inter-professionals) and a clear definition and understanding of the problem. The best strategy for prevention is awareness.
(For more information visit http://www.maltraitancedesaines.com/en/)

It would appear that we could learn a lot from this project. Professor Beaulieu stressed the importance of the collaboration between the involved agencies e.g. aged care practitioners and the police.

Stakeholder Collaboration - Dr Maree Bernoth

Collaboration between stakeholders was also the theme of Dr Maree Bernoth's address, specifically in attracting and retaining Registered Nurses in rural and remote aged care facilities in New South Wales.

(Dr Maree Bernoth, Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Indigenous Health, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.)

"In identifying the strengths of rural aged care facilities we are using authentic partnerships so that all stakeholders have a voice and their input (is) welcomed and respected." The stakeholders include the age care facility residents, staff, management, the community, service providers, students and academics. The result was a change in approach to teaching undergraduate students about the valuing of the residents and staff of the facility.

The "authentic partnerships" involve

• Security
• Belonging
• Continuity
• Openness to development
• Dynamic approach

Involving the undergraduate students directly with the aged care facility residents has resulted in 50% of students now opting for aged care employment.

Closing Speaker - Brenton Pope, Residential Programs Manager, ARAS

The final speaker could have been the introductory speaker, but placing him at the end of the program underlined all we had been hearing during the day and his address was extremely well received. Brenton Pope is the Residential Programs Manager, Aged Rights Advocacy Service. "entrenched institutionalisation and ageist attitudes contribute to the ongoing abuse of older people living in residential care. If, as a generalisation, society is ageist, then it follows that aged care is also ageist." Some examples put forward were:

Physical abuse

-Hidden or passed off as:
 "... older people bruise easily"
 "... must have had a fall"
 "... he does have dementia"

• Sexual abuse

-It can't happen:
  "older people are not sexually active"

• Financial abuse

-"... incapable of managing finances"
-"... needs assistance in making decisions"
-"... family members must be consulted in relation to financial decisions"

I saw an instance of this personally recently when a nearly 80 y.o. acquaintance decided to sell the large home and buy a smaller residence. One member of the family attempted to intervene and block the sale until my acquaintance asserted, "This is my decision. This is what I want." Prior to this conference I would have out this event down to "interfering" at worst, but in fact it was a form of elder abuse.

• Social abuse

-Prior to an outing arranged for the residents of an aged care facility, "... the family must be consulted." Why? -If the resident wants to go, then that is all that is required.
 "... needs supervision by a family member" Again, why? Is he likely to escape?

Brenton gave us several quotes from Mark Twain and Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi said:

Every time we impose our will on another, it is an act of violence.


The SA Office of the Ageing has a campaign to "Stop Elder Abuse". The key to prevention is education. We in COTA are in a position where our clients are senior Australians - we interact with them, their families and/or their carers on a regular basis. I advocate that we all need to learn more about ageism and elder abuse to be able to recognise those behaviours and take some action to prevent it continuing. Am I suggesting that we interfere? No. If we learn to recognise elder abuse, then we need to learn what to do about it to prevent it.

Without attending this conference I would not even have a shallow insight into the problem, and I am grateful for the opportunity to attend.

At our Peer Education sessions we tell people "Falls, depression etc... is not a normal part of ageing." We also tell our audiences that they have the right to make their own decisions, and to have those decisions respected (e.g. CDC). We say it, and I think we believe it and practice what we preach, but could we gain a deeper understanding? Yes.

Resources and More Information

If you, or someone you know is experiencing abuse, contact ARAS for guidance and assistance on (08) 8232 5377 or aras@agedrights.asn.au or visit http://www.sa.agedrights.asn.au/

It's important to understand your rights and to recognise the laws that provide safeguards and protection - to this end the South Australian Government in partnership with Office for the Ageing and with the valued expertise of COTA SA's peer educators this year produced 'Knowing Your Rights: A Guide to the Rights of Older South Australians' - download a copy of this invaluable resource here https://www.cotasa.org.au/resources/knowing-your-rights.aspx.