Australia’s Dark Side: A look at Elder Abuse

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Elderly Man commons.wikimedia.org
Source: Wikicommons

It’s one of the worst forms of abuse – that is, abuse of an elderly person (sometimes mentally challenged or physically disabled) who cannot fight back. It’s right up there with animal abuse, and abuse against women and young children. So why is elder abuse not much an issue?

By 2025 it is estimated that elder abuse will be costing the health system over $350 million dollars per year.

It is projected that there are approximately 100,000 unreported cases of elder abuse in Australia each year, 25,000 of those in Queensland which is the state with the largest number of elder abuse cases.

Looking a little more closer to home I started to ask around, I wanted to know if anyone locally had witnessed or experienced elder abuse either personally or through a friend or loved one.

What I found was disturbing, but like hundreds of other elderly abuse cases throughout Australia each year, it cannot be 100% substantiated as most elderly patients suffering abuse are too scared to speak up out of fear of what might happen to them if they do.

Recently I spoke with *Mary who was an Assistant in Nursing with a Queensland aged care facility. She had been employed at this institute for close to a year and knew all the patients and staff well.

Mary expressed that for the most part the patients were treated fairly and with respect although sometimes emotions would be running high and tempers would flare and a staff member would snap at a patient and speak down to them or ignore their requests all together.

“I never personally witnessed any physical violence against any of our patients but there was one incident that has always stuck with me.

“One of our long term patients was playing up one night, just being really difficult and wanting to be moved into a new room, so we started to move him and seen that he was covered in deep purple and blue bruises.

“We then realised he was too heavy to lift so told him we were going to go and get *Fred one of the male nurses and at the mention of that staff members name the patient froze up and begged us not to and he had tears in his eyes but he wouldn’t say why.”

Mary did follow the incident up and tried to speak with the patient one on one and get him to open up on how he got the bruises but the patient was too scared to talk and was suffering from dementia and so the bruises just got put down to him falling out of his bed.

Recent studies have shown older persons who are mistreated can suffer from severe emotional distress, especially depression, and are likely to die more quickly.

The next incident I was made aware of also came from a Queensland aged care facility but this time it was a kitchen hand / laundry attendant by the pseudo name of *Alice who was telling me what she’d overheard.

“One day I was in the dining room and there was a patient sitting in there watching television.

“This man was notorious for his tantrums that he performs on a regular basis and on this day one of the nurses snapped and spun around and shouted at him to ‘Shut up!’ and then turned off his TV show and moved him back into his room for the rest of the day.”

These stories are just one of many cases that occur each day throughout Australia, and while they may not seem too bad, the question I like to ask is this: How would you feel if this was your elderly mother or father being treated this way by people that are paid to care for them?

Elder Abuse cases are extremely difficult to prosecute in court due to lack of specific elder abuse laws and due to unduly influenced and/or incapacitated victims.

The Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act revealed in 2009-2010, there were 1488 assaults on residents with 80% being physical assaults and/or unreasonable use of force, 19% being sexual assaults, and 1% being both. 745 residents went missing during this same period but there is no overall recording of what happened in these circumstances.

* Names have been changed to protect identities*