Geoffrey's cover image
Geoffrey

Geoffrey Rowe

Year of Award: 2018 Award State: Queensland Health And Medicine > Aged Care
The Paul Tys Churchill Fellowship to access world's best practice in preventing and responding to Elder Abuse in aged care and the community - UK, Canada, USA, New Zealand
Download

Elder abuse is described by the World Health Organisation 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’. 

Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect.

We don’t yet have a detailed picture of how extensive the problem of abuse of older people is in Australia. What we do know from overseas studies is that abuse of older people affects between 2% and 12% of older people, and it affects both women and men. It has been estimated that as many as 185,000 older people in Australia experience some form of abuse or neglect each year. Abuse of older people can happen both inside and outside the home. It can also involve those who we love and trust. 

Elder abuse is complex. While related in nature, it is different to domestic violence, and therefore requires its own response. 

I was motivated to undertake a Churchill Fellowship in part by a frustration that as a community, our response to elder abuse is where the response to domestic violence was twenty years ago. As a society we have little, or at best a poor understanding of elder abuse, often viewing it as a family issue rather than a criminal matter.

We have also failed to count the cost of elder abuse, the emotional, social and financial – to the older person and the community more broadly. 

A Churchill Fellowship provided the opportunity to examine world best practice in preventing and responding to elder abuse in both aged care and the community. Such an examination has allowed me to bring that information back to Australia to close the gap in our learning, understanding and response to elder abuse.  

The commencement of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has strengthened my resolve in this regard, noting of course that elder abuse is not limited to aged care.

My Fellowship journey has taken me to New York, Vancouver, Anchorage, Edinburgh, London and Wellington, visiting thirty-three organisations across a six-week period. While expecting to find other jurisdictions comfortable with their response to elder abuse, many of the people whom I met expressed similar frustrations regarding poor engagement of government in progressing the response, and the lack of understanding about elder abuse by the broader community.

Despite those similarities, I returned to Australia frustrated by our lack of real progress in appropriately responding to elder abuse.

The standout observation of most concern is Australia’s failure to recognise that older people have the same Human Rights as the rest of the community. Our legislative and service responses do not operate from a rights base. Too often we see older people being required to check in their rights when they check into aged care. Ageism is alive and well in Australia.

We must change our view of elder abuse. Elder abuse as a crime. It is not a family matter. There must be consequences for perpetrators. 

My report includes recommendations to build on and improve our response to the abuse of older Australians across the domains of enhancing understanding, improving community awareness and access to information, strengthening our service response, planning for future decision making and strengthening safeguards.

As Australian’s we must develop an appropriate response to elder abuse that recognises not only the diversity of the Australian population, but also the challenges associated with responding across a huge and diverse geographic area. Any response must be two-fold. Responding to the needs of the victim, while also focusing on education and prevention, so that the impact of elder abuse going forward can be reduced, if not eliminated.


Keywords: Aboriginal, abuse, aged, aged care, adult protection, elder abuse, financial abuse, First Nation, Indigenous, older person, prevention

Related fellows
Rebecca Lyons, Rebecca
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2018
David Kidd, David
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2018
Victoria Cornell, Victoria
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2019
Ricki Smith, Ricki
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2016
Tushara Wickramariyaratne, Tushara
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2016
Edward Bullitis, Edward
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2015
Stephen Geason, Stephen
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2015
Caroline Langston, Caroline
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2015
Kate Barnett OAM, Kate
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2014
Joy Cocker, Joy
Health And Medicine > Aged Care
2014