Calls for better protection of elders

Australia’s law reform commission today issued more than 40 recommendations to stop financial and physical abuse of the elderly.

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It is a problem advocates say is far too prevalent in Australia, with up to one in twenty senior Australians suffering some form of abuse.

But Council on the Ageing chief executive, Ian Yates, say elder abuse is difficult to track.

“Elder abuse is fairly widespread. It is a minority, but it’s in numbers in, you know, the tens of thousands a year, that are disturbing. And it’s disturbing that we don’t know about it. Elder abuse remains neglected, and it’s time that we picked up our game and did something really significant about it.”

Andrew Simpson from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers says elder abuse can be a family affair.

He says it be physical, emotional or financial.

“Financial abuse is very difficult to police because often it happens at the hands of a family member or friend. People help themselves to mum or dad’s money without authority, and ultimately depriving mum and dad of their own wealth. One of the problems with older people, is often they have compromised capacity, and they don’t have social networks around them that can provide the support that they need. And so often, by the time the abuse has occured and the money has been taken, it’s too late.”

The Australian law reform commission launched an inquiry into the elder abuse last year.

It has now released its findings, in a report that includes 43 recommendations.

Among them – improved responses in aged care homes, enhanced employment screening of care workers, and safeguard systems to support at-risk adults

It also pushes for banks to introduce better financial protection for vulnerable customers.

Mr Yates welcomes the report.

“We very much suffer at the moment from a bits and piecey approach. Inconsistent laws, gaps in laws, and no national framework at all.”

The report also calls for consistent laws across states and territories.

Age Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Paterson, says that would help reduce confusion over matters like power of attorney.

“They’re absolutely vital. And I think people who are making powers of attorney need to understand what their rights are. And I think we know as well as we should that we can put conditions on it.”

In a statement Attorney-General George Brandis welcomed the findings, saying the government has committed to a national framework, and invested 15 million dollars to protect older Australians.

Kay Patterson believes that support is crucial.

“And it really requires action from all levels of government. From businesses, like banks, from health professionals, and anybody who comes in contact with older people.”