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We might not hear about elder abuse very often but the government believes up to ten per cent of older Australians suffer abuse every year. And it's often difficult for older migrants, who face additional barriers when it comes to reporting the abuse. There are ways to get help.
Audrey Bourget/Olga Klepova

8 Jun 2017 - 11:09 AM  UPDATED 9 Jun 2017 - 5:02 PM

When we hear "elder abuse", we might think first about physical abuse, but it can take many forms. The most common is financial abuse. It can be stealing money from an older person, forcing them to change their will or forging their signature on a bank document. There's also psychological, emotional and sexual abuse.

Elder abuse happens when somebody causes harm or distress to an older person whom they are supposed to have a relationship of trust with.

Very often, isolation makes older people more vulnerable. Alexander Abramoff is an Aged Care Manager. He says that being an older migrant can increase the chances of social isolation.         

"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.

Victoria's Elder Abuse Prevention Association says in 90 per cent of cases, the abuser is a family member.

Greg Mahney, the CEO of Advocare, a Western Australian organisation supporting older people, says the abusers are mostly adult children.          

"An abuser, in the case of elder abuse, can be anyone. But overwhelmingly, the experience at both my organisation Advocare and through the research elsewhere shows that sons and daughters or stepson and stepdaughters are the most likely abusers of older people. There is also abuse by other relatives such as grandsons, granddaughters, nephews, nieces and the spouse sometimes."

For older people with a multicultural background, language can add another barrier. Aged Care Manager Alexander Abramoff says language abilities limit the network of older migrants and also limits their understanding of financial or legal decisions.

"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."

Reporting abuse is also harder if the victim doesn't speak much English. Advocare's Greg Mahney explains that's why organisations like his use independent translators.

"A real issue that we sometime encounter when we're dealing with a migrant who's got an elder abuse problem is that we have to talk to them to find out the information. And quite often it's a relative or someone very close to the family who wants to be the translator. The problem with that is that we can't be one hundred per cent sure that what is being translated to us is exactly the right information. Or perhaps the person who is doing the translation is not being a hundred per cent accurate in the translation so it's always a bit of a risk. We always try to get an independent translator when we're talking to someone who can't speak English."

There are resources in English, but also in several other languages, to help seniors. Each state has an organisation supporting victims of elder abuse.

Advocare's Greg Mahney recommends calling their helpline.

"Almost all states have an elder abuse helpline so people can call the elder abuse helpline in their own state, or even in another state, and they'll be able to get good help through calling those numbers. But the most important thing I think is that you don't have to just take the abuse. It's not normal to get abused as you get older and it's important that you do something about it."

And if you can't call the helpline, there are other people whom you can confide in like your GP, a religious leader or a friend you trust.

Melissa Chaperlin is a solicitor at the New South Wales Senior Right Service. She wants to make sure older people understand their right to make their own decisions.

If you think that you or somebody you know is victim of elder abuse, call your state's elder abuse helpline to get support.

"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."

For more information visit the my aged care website.

Settlement Guide: What is elder abuse? How to recognise and prevent it
Often when family relationships break down elder abuse can arise. It’s important that you do something about it if you think you or someone you know are the victim of it.