Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: older migrants vulnerable to elder abuse

Source: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes CC BY 2.0, Creative Commons, Public domain

Australia is ageing and it's our older migrant communities that will age faster than the wider population. That's the warning from the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA). And as we age there's an increasing number of elder abuse cases around the country.

The Elder Abuse Prevention Unit estimates elder abuse costs the health system more than $350 million dollars each year. It also says for every call they receive about elder abuse there's four times more causes going unreported.

Isolation is the key factor that contributes to older people's vulnerability.

Being a migrant in a country where cultural and linguistic backgrounds differ to your native is a challenge. When you are in your 60s, this language challenge can increase your chances of social isolation.
Home and community social support program Aged Care Manager Alexander Abramoff says isolation is the key factor that contributes to older people's vulnerability.
    
"It's a language barrier, it's a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of the service system, because the service system in Russia where they come from or from China or from Europe is totally different to what it is here. It's isolation, lack of confidence in asking. We've always argued that social support is such an important part because it keeps people connected with not only their own community but information from outside of that community, people talk."

This vulnerability can make older people targets of abuse by strangers and often their own family. NSW Seniors Rights Service Solicitor Melissa Chaperlin assists people over 60 with elder abuse matters. She explains how elder abuse can occur.

In 90 per cent of cases the perpetrator is a family member.

"It commonly can occur in family relationships, you'll get elder abuse whether it's financial or physical by family members. It could be a daughter, or son, or other related far family member that's coming into the home of the older person.  And where these relationships break down and are put under strain, elder abuse can arise."

The World Health Organisation defines elder abuse as a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. Victoria's Elder Abuse Prevention Association says in 90 per cent of cases the perpetrator is a family member. The NSW Seniors Rights service says while elder abuse cases are mostly under-reported, it can affect up to 10 per cent of older people worldwide. For older people with a multicultural background, language can be a barrier. Aged Care Manager Alexander Abramoff says language abilities can often limit the network that older people can communicate with and also limits their ability to understand financial or legal decisions.

Elder abuse cases often involve the use a Power of Attorney to control the lives of older people.

"You can imagine someone that doesn't have a big network of people and relies on one or two people, it's very easy for those people to get the old person to sign something that they didn't understand what they are signing or they are a big bother to the person and even though the carer in inverted commas is supposed to be helping the person stay at home, what they are in fact doing is they are waiting for that person basically to die and providing very minimal support."

With rising rental and property prices across Australia, it's not uncommon for older people to live with younger family members. But their dependency to their family can grow.

"The elderly that we come into contact with, they're very trusting of their children and they won't read and they don't understand the English documents that they get in the mail and they are very prone to abuse in that way and if they don't have any other support networks people that they can go to. We've recently had someone that was concerned about this very matter and they'd find the Power of Attorney for their daughter but they didn't understand what it was all about."

Seniors Rights Service Solicitor Melissa Chaperlin says elder abuse cases often involve the use a Power of Attorney to control the lives of older people.

"Power of Attorney is when an older person appoints a person to manage their financial and legal affair on their behalf, do their banking for example, and while that older person has capacity they act in accordance with the older person's instructions and enduring power of attorney is the more powerful document when the older person lacks that mental capacity to make their own decisions, then the attorney acts in their best interests."

Seniors are often reluctant to admit that they are being abused by a family member or caregiver.

Solicitor Melissa Chaperlin says Powers of Attorney can also be used in cases of financial abuse.

"We get a lot of call through our service in terms of financial abuse where an attorney is breaching their fiduciary obligations under a Power of Attorney so they are using the older person's funds for their own purposes. Or we get a lot of call in relations to an older person making a contribution to a child's home on an understating they can reside there for life and then that relationship breaks down and they're forced to find alternative accommodation or bring legal proceedings against the family."

Older people struggle to recognise they are being abused.

Aged Care Manager Alexander Abramoff says often a single child can be responsible for elder abuse.

"There isn't any one stereotype, it all depends on the character of the person the age how confident they are with handling their own finances and their own matters, how isolated they are. If for example the elderly person had a number of children, but the other children are estranged or are living in another country and there is one child and that is often the situation that is prone to abuse."

The NSW Elder Abuse helpline says often older people struggle to recognise they are being abused. Seniors are often reluctant to admit that they are being abused by a family member or caregiver. Solicitor Melissa Chaperlin says once the abuse is reported, they have the power to help.

"And violence can be verbal abuse we had one call when spouse had said if you don't do this I'll put a knife through you. So that's a form of domestic violence that is verbal abuse and intimidation. So there are remedies available people can contact the police and have them act on their behalf and get an apprehensive violence order taking out against the person and if that person wants them to, they can be removed from the home."

FECCA's 2020 vision and belief is that older Australians form CALD backgrounds should be able to live a full life.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (also known as FECCA) recently released its 2020 vision for older culturally and linguistically diverse Australians. The vision says older people should be able to live well, contribute to, engage with and enjoy their communities and have access to support when they need it. FECCA Healthy Ageing Reference Network Chair Mary Patetsos said it's about improving their quality of life.

"FECCA vision and belief is that older Australians form CALD backgrounds, from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, should be able to live a life as full as possible, and a meaningful life allows them to contribute to Australian society and engage with our society and enjoy their own communities. And only when they need to because it's very much at the end of their life if they require care that's when they should be able to access care that is of high quality and ever standard that is appropriate for all Australians."

Enabling older people to manage their daily lives is a key part of the vision.

"The only way you can exercise choice and control is if you're an informed consumer. So what we're advocating for is that choice is only enabled if you have the power and the knowledge to exercise choice. So what we're essentially saying is CALD Australians need to understand what services are available to them, they need to be able to communicate their needs in their own language and they also need to be able to talk to people so they can understand what services are available so they can make informed choices."

It's important that older people be aware that there are services out there where they can get free legal advice and assistance.

The NSW Seniors Rights Service is also focused on helping older people understand their rights to make their own decisions. Solicitor Melissa Chaperlin explains.

"It's important to know that as we age we still have right, we still have right to make our own decisions and communicate those decisions, we get varying levels of capacity but we're able to continue to make decisions that we understand the consequences of and also it's important that older people be aware that there are services out there where they can get free legal advice and assistance and information so that they continue to exercise those rights and manage their affairs for as long as they are able to."

If you need assistance on a matter of elder abuse, find your state's helpline at My Aged Care
If you speak a language other than English, contact the National Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 13 14 50.