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Calls to elderly abuse hotline soar

A government campaign has encouraged a record number of abused and degraded senior citizens to emerge from the darkness, finds Warren Barnsley.

An elderly abuse helpline has received a record number of calls in the last two months following a government awareness campaign.

The Elderly Abuse Prevention Unit (EAPU) has seen its intake of calls rise significantly from approximately 60 calls a month to over 100 in June and July.

EAPU research officer Domnica Sparkes said the campaign has had a positive effect on the aged community.

‘[The campaign] has been very successful in getting people to, at the very least, ask what’s available for their family or friends or for themselves.’

Despite the rise in people who have emerged from the darkness to expose instances of abuse, Ms Sparkes said the under reporting of the issue was highlighted.

‘In one way it’s good, because people are seeking help. They’re not willing to put up with abusive behaviour. On the other hand, it’s giving us a really good idea of just how bad it actually is and how many people just aren’t going for help.’

The Department of Communities campaign, which began on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on July 15, consists of four posters describing scenarios of senior citizen abuse by those who are supposed to be trusted, such as relatives and carers.

These have been seen in libraries, community and medical centres, and on public transport across the state.

While attempting to increase awareness, also encouraging elderly people who suffer abuse to come forward is a key priority.

However, this could be very difficult as shame, embarrassment and denial can hinder an elderly person’s willingness to talk about their problems.

‘Our helpline is anonymous, which makes it easier for someone who’s calling up who is embarrassed. [It] gives them a little bit of protection to be able to talk about it without feeling that they’re being judged or criticised,’ said Ms Sparkes.

She said the majority of calls received by the EAPU are financial and psychological abuses. Some of the more frequent cases include misuse of power of attorney and bullying and intimidation.

Gail Taylor, an aged care worker for over 20 years, said elderly abuse was something carers were trained to deal with. They were educated to identify any instances of abuse so they could report and prevent it.

‘We’ve been told about examples of people robbing old people blind, and it’s actually usually relatives, friends or acquaintances. The poor buggers end up with nothing and the relatives are gone.’

‘Carers also learn about a lot of psychological stuff. Some people don’t even realise they’re doing it [the abuse]. Say an elderly person has wet themselves or dirtied themselves in their bed, a relative or someone close to the elder might say, “You’re a dirty old sod. How are you doing this?” A lot of it is born out of frustration.’

Taylor said abuse could also include sexual and physical abuse, as well as neglect and forced social isolation.

Despite this, she said governments and organisations have taken ‘steps in the right direction’ to create more awareness of seniors’ rights in the past five years.

‘There is more awareness out there, and of course as the population is becoming older, they are more educated of their own rights than what elders of 40 years ago might have been.’

‘When I first started nursing there was no actual classification of elder abuse. It’s more of a “modern” thing as more things have come to light.’

Ms Sparkes said it’s important for elderly people to be continually educated and made aware of their rights.

‘We target community groups by saying, ‘know your rights, find out how to protect your rights’. We found that’s probably a more effective strategy than going, ‘We’re going to talk to you about elder abuse.’

The Elderly Abuse Prevention Unit can be contacted on 1300 651 192.

Warren Barnsley is a final year journalism and sociology student at the University of Queensland.

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