World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was June the 15th. It has been held every year since the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse established the commemoration in June 2006.
What is elder abuse?
It is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust such as a family member or friend. The abuse may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual, and can include mistreatment and neglect.
The evidence about the prevalence of Elder Abuse is somewhat lacking, however, experts believe that somewhere between 2 and 10 per cent of older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year.
Based on calls to helplines operating in this area the most common age group of victims is between 80 and 84 and their children were the largest group of perpetrators – a staggering 60%.
It is hard to imagine, as frustrating as I do find my mum – she is 87 – the thought of her coming to any harm at my hand whether it be physical or psychological is completely repugnant and obviously based on the statistics, it is the same for most of us.
In my various roles over many years dealing with aged clients, I have never come across any signs of physical abuse, however, I have certainly come across cases where children have taken financial advantage of their elderly parents.
I find abuse a very hard word to use in the situations which I am about to outline, financial advantage seems a far more accurate terminology.
The most common area where elderly parents are taken advantage of, from a financial perspective is when the time comes to sale their home.
As people grow older, the ability to look after themselves and a large residence is difficult even with regular help.
People also grow lonely, their partner of 50 years passes away, friends who they have known for just as long also pass, their neighborhood has changed dramatically – it is not as friendly as it was, and all their children and grandchildren live in another state.
For an elderly person, when one of their children knocks on the door offering a solution by inviting Mum or Dad to come and live with them – this child will appear as a “white knight” and all common sense is forgotten.
So, Mum sells her old home for a large amount of money and then contributes this to the building of an even larger home which will accommodate her, her loving child, their partner and the two or three loving grandchildren. Appears idyllic, except for one very important missing piece, Mum’s name appears nowhere on the title to the house. She has no legal right to any part of this property.
You may be thinking this would not happen, no-one is that naïve – you are wrong, it happens on a regular basis. Mum believes her loving child would never ever do the wrong thing by her so sees no need to protect herself legally by having her name on the title.
What can happen?
The unfortunate situations which can arise are numerous. The most common is the breakdown in the loving child’s marriage and the subsequent property settlement which does not take into account Mum’s position.
The second common situation, where it can go all wrong – the loving child borrows large amounts of money secured by the value of the home without telling mum and then for whatever reason fails to meet their mortgage repayments. Bank steps in, sells the home and recovers the money owed to “them”, monies owed to Mum is not a consideration.
Now, I am not saying that the child in either situation set out to financially abuse Mum, but they have certainly taken advantage of her.
In both these cases, Mum did end up back on her own, living in a very small unit in an area where she knew no one, and in the second case renting a small relocatable home in an over 55’s park
The third story is a tragic case which again left mum with no place to live.
As in the first two scenarios, Mum contributed all the money from the sale of her home to her son and daughter-in-law who built a beautiful granny flat on their property. Mum was very happy here for a number of years until tragedy struck, her son and daughter-in-law were killed in a horrific motor vehicle accident.
The estate of the son and daughter-in-law left the home to the grand-children with no right for Mum to continue to reside in the home. The grand-children sold the home without providing any compensation to their grandmother.
I firmly believe that in all these cases the children did not mean to take advantage of their elderly parents, but by not insisting on a legal document, they did take advantage of them and left them in a far worse position.
This is just one small area of Elder Abuse but as responsible members of an advanced society, we all have an obligation to ensure that the older members of our community are not physically, psychologically, sexually or financially abused.
So please if you believe that someone you know may be suffering from this sort of abuse please contact the relevant hotline in the state that you live: