Neighbour Hood Support

Elder abuse and neglect

Older people are vulnerable to abuse and neglect. The abuser is usually a member of the older person’s family or a person employed in a position of trust. The abuser may be struggling to cope with being a caregiver or could be having troubles of their own that are putting him or her under pressure, such as a substance abuse problem or financial difficulties. The abuse can be:

  • Physical - rough handling, being hit or forcefully confined or restrained
  • Emotional - being insulted, threatened, frightened or called names that hurt
  • Sexual - being threatened or forced to be sexually intimate
  • Financial - having to sign over or give money or other possessions
  • Neglect - can be intentional or unintentional but may involve the denial of food, medical care, shelter or social contact.

Abuse can be a hidden problem, compounded by the isolation, communication difficulties and lack of support facing some older people.

Signs that abuse is occurring may include:

  • Fear of a particular person or people
  • Anxiety for no obvious reason
  • Irritability and being overly emotional
  • Presenting as helpless, hopeless and sad
  • Using contradictory statements not resulting from mental confusion
  • Reluctance to talk openly. For example, waiting for the carer to answer
  • Avoidance of the usual amount of physical, eye or verbal contact this person uses.

Determining if elder abuse or neglect is occurring requires special training and skills. However, anyone whose own observations of an older person or who through a disclosure made to them about or by the older person, is concerned that an older person is being abused, should:

  • Ensure the older person is safe
  • Support and reassure the older person
  • Not discuss the subject with or challenge the abuser
  • Seek permission and refer the person on to the nearest Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention service.

There are 24 Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention services throughout New Zealand providing confidential and free information and support. This link to Age Concern contains their addresses. If the person is in immediate danger, the police should be called. If older people are in a close personal relationship with their abuser, the victim may be able to obtain a protection order.

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