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Aged Care Providers can play a part in Stopping Elder Abuse

26th June 2019

The theme of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 is “we can stop elder abuse”. Aged care providers, who are in regular contact with older people in their homes and in residential care, can and should play a pivotal role in stopping elder abuse.

We know that elder abuse is, unfortunately, often carried out by someone that an older person knows and trusts, such as a member of their own family.

Aged care providers who deliver services to clients in their own homes are well-placed to identify where an older person may be at risk, and to link them with information and resources. Providers can also ensure that their staff know how to recognise the potential signs of elder abuse and the options for responding.

Residential aged care presents unique challenges for, and risks of, elder abuse. Older people living in residential aged care are particularly vulnerable because of their dependence on others.

Aged care providers have an obligation to protect residents’ health and needs and must vigilantly maintain a zero tolerance for abuse and neglect. Providers must ensure that staff do not perpetrate such violations, through effective recruitment of the right people with the right skills, and importantly, the right personal attributes. They must also arm staff with training and education and the systems to report any such observations.

Protecting resident health and safety also involves minimising the risk of residents falling victim to abuse at the hands of another resident. In the majority of cases, this is not due to deliberately malevolent behaviour, but lack of impulse control that can sometimes occur for people living with dementia. Aged care providers must have effective approaches in place for managing these behaviours.

Providers can also assist in primary prevention. That is, reducing the risk of elder abuse before it occurs. This can include educating older people about their rights, providing information about advocacy, promoting supported decision-making, and providing support and information about appointing substitute decision-makers and advance care planning.

Aged care providers should lead by example, adopting a rights-based approach to service delivery which makes the care recipient’s rights, not just their needs, the key focus.

Just as gender inequality is recognised as a key underlying driver of violence against women, ageism is a fundamental foundation of elder abuse.

Negative attitudes and stereotypes about older people set a context in which the neglect or abuse of older people is more easily minimised or ignored. When older people are routinely ignored, patronised, or excluded, elder abuse is more difficult to recognise – even for those who are experiencing it.

Aged care providers can support primary prevention by participating in advocacy focused on ageism, such as the EveryAGE Counts (www.everyagecounts.org.au) campaign. The aged care sector is full of people who have a deep appreciation for the wisdom, experience and value that older people contribute to society, and who welcome the opportunity to stand up against ageism.

The National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians (Elder Abuse), also has resources such as the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) and a national Elder Abuse Helpline.

OPAN provides free advocacy, support, information and education to address issues related to aged care services. These are delivered through services in each jurisdiction, including Elder Rights Advocacy in Victoria.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety and Quality has drawn attention to instances where aged care providers have been part of the problem when it comes to abuse and neglect of older people. But aged care providers can and should be part of the solution to elder abuse within and beyond aged care services.