Ageing and Elder Abuse

During Jesus’ life, he emphatically delivered a new command: “Love one another.” Most importantly, he gave us a real-life example of what loving one another looks like. Jesus exemplified this command without regard for his neighbours’ position, intellect, status, age, sex, reputation, race, occupation or history. Many who received his command would have been pushed to the margins by their society, and yet, Jesus received them, forgave them, spent slow time with them, healed them, walked with them, listened to their stories and invested in them. And so, he gave this simple command: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

Likewise, the followers of Jesus in the early church were exhorted to show no favouritism as they worshipped (see James 2:1) and to ‘be devoted to one another in love.’ (Romans 12:10). They were to show honour to older men, respect older women and to recognise widows in need (see 1 Timothy 5:1-3). ‘The early church shone in its care for widows and orphans. This care was driven by a recognition that all people are innately valuable. This love in action is one of the major factors that contributed to the growth of the Christian faith.’ [1]

The vulnerability of the aged in Jesus’ time parallels the situation for elders in our communities, where many can feel isolated, forgotten and undervalued. It is believed that negative stereotyping (particularly in Western societies) and a lack of veneration for elders may be a contributing factor in the onset of dementia. [2] The utilitarian view of human life can overlook the significance of a person’s spirit [3] and devalue the contribution of the elderly ‘in ways that lead to neglect, abuse, and even death.’ [4]

Amongst the 1 million Victorians over the age of 60, between 2% and 14% experience elder abuse, [5] with approximately 20,000 cases per year going unreported. [6] Elder abuse is any form of violence or mistreatment that causes harm to an older person, and occurs within a relationship of trust. [7] It can take the form of emotional, financial, physical, social or sexual abuse or neglect.

Recently Pope Francis commented on the plight of the elderly in a society that values production. He said, ‘When the elderly are tossed aside, when the elderly are isolated and sometimes fade away due to a lack of care, it is an awful sign! … They aren’t needed and what isn’t needed gets thrown away. What doesn’t produce is discarded.” [8]

Jesus’s love for others was non-hierarchical, selfless, without favouritism, and honouring of the image of God in all people. As our society places value in production, ideas of youthful beauty, cognition, the ability to make money or study, God’s people need to continue to exemplify Jesus’ command to love others, just as he has loved us.

‘We all want to see that justice is done to everyone in our society so that those who would seem to be at the periphery, those who are on the edge, become the brothers and sisters of those at the centre.’’ – Senator Barney Cooney.

Ageing
Being regarded as older in Australia could be from the age of 60, when one is classified as a senior. However, much of the data regarding elder abuse and ‘the aged’ refers to people over 65. In defining ‘older’ for Indigenous Australians, 50-55 years is commonly used. [9] This is due to the significantly shorter life expectancy of Indigenous Australians. See here for more information on Reconciliation.

Ageing in Australian society is largely viewed as a negative and unwanted result of advancing years. Our advertising often focuses on youthful beauty, energy and production as something to be admired and desperately retained, while diminishing the worth of stories, wrinkles, memory and wisdom.

‘In western societies there appears to be a general negative attitude towards ageing and older people, a manifestation of which is the often patronising stereotypes of older people portrayed by the media. These attitudes create a fertile ground for age discrimination and like any form of discrimination it devalues and disempowers the group it is directed against.’ [10] Seeking to combat the fear of ageing and unhelpful stereotypes, ‘in early 2019, the beauty publishing giant Allure Magazine declared it would no longer use the term anti-ageing.’ [11]

Ageing can bring with it a diminished physical or cognitive capacity and can increase a person’s financial vulnerability. These vulnerabilities can be preyed on by abusers, and the term Elder Abuse has been coined more recently to understand the plight of a growing number of vulnerable older people in our world.

Elder Abuse
Currently one in six older people world-wide experiences elder abuse. [12] It is predicted that the proportion of senior people in Australia will double over the next 40 years, [13] and with this there will be a rise in the incidence of elder abuse.

In 2015 The National Ageing Research Institute released a report on Elder Abuse in Victoria. Data was gathered through matters reported via the Seniors Rights Victoria Helpline. [14] For those who reported abuse, the following are the percentages of clients reporting each type of abuse: Financial abuse – 61%, Psychological or emotional abuse – 59%, Physical abuse – 16%, Social abuse – 9%, neglect – 1%, sexual abuse – 0.44%. [15] Financial abuse includes ‘incurring bills for someone else; taking up residence in the older person’s home for reasons other than the benefit of the older person; stealing; coercing an older person to hand over an asset; and the abuse of a Power of Attorney document. [16] Click here for more information on Family Violence.

People most at risk of elder abuse are older women (2.5 times more likely than for men) [17] and those who are either living alone or living with a son or daughter. [18] Mothers are most often the subject of abuse by sons, although abuse by daughters is also common, and fathers are victims too. [19] Click here for more information on Gender Equality. 90% of alleged perpetrators are related to the older person and in a position of trust. [20] ‘ It was found that low income earners made up 86% of those who experienced abuse, [21] and those who had a family history of violence were most significantly noted for clients who experienced physical, social and psychological abuse. [22]

A significant number of alleged perpetrators of all abuse types (apart from sexual) were identified by the older person as having substance abuse issues or a gambling addiction. Many of those responsible for physical, psychological and social abuse were also identified as having mental health issues.’ [23]

In addition to familial and carer abuse, Australians over 65 are the most vulnerable to scams and cybercrime. ‘Common scams targeting older Australians include dating, investment, door-to-door and rebate scams.’ [24]

The Royal Commission
A year-long Royal Commission into the Aged Care Sector began in January 2019 in response to myriad reports of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, over-medicating residents and neglect. One day before the launch of the Royal Commission, the Federal Government announced funding boosts for home care packages, which include care at home and funding for home modifications, to encourage seniors to live independently at home longer. [25]

Commissioner Richard Tracey announced in the opening week of the Commission enquires that ‘the hallmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable people and our elderly are often amongst our most physically, emotionally and financially vulnerable.’ [26]

One aspect of aged care that is being addressed is the need for unregulated workers in the sector to be registered, and therefore required to ‘satisfy minimum training, criminal record checks with annual or biannual renewal of registration — similar to registered nurses.’ It has also been urged that these support workers do not replace registered nurses. Currently unregulated workers represent 70% of the aged care workforce. [27]

BUV
The Baptist Union of Victoria aims to empower churches with resources and advice that will help them make their church a safe place for all. The Safe People, Safe Places and Safe Programs resources are designed to assist churches to provide a safe, loving and ethical environment in which to run their ministries, and to provide support for churches in the event of allegations or incidents within their church. The BUV website is replete with information on how to recruit, train, and educate your church in safeguarding against abuse particularly toward the vulnerable in our congregations. Click here for more information.

Australian Baptist Ministries
‘We aspire to be communities that are safe and secure, where the voices and experiences of women, children, elderly and other vulnerable people are valued.’ [28] Read here for the Australian Baptist Ministries’ statement on Domestic and Family Violence.

Baptcare
Baptcare published a Policy Position Paper on ‘Abuse and violence in family and other carer relationships’ in March 2016. This paper outlines the need for a community approach to adequately keep an increasing ageing population aware of the prevalence of abuse, their rights and recourse. Churches can be a perfect environment for these informative and safeguarding conversations to take place. Click here for more information on Baptcare’s position policy.

With more than 70 years of experience in aged care, Baptcare provides residential aged care (including palliative and social activities and respite centres), retirement living and home help services through government funded home care packages. Baptcare have received a number of Australian Aged Care Agency Better Practice Awards in recent years, including for Excellence in Health and Personal Care – Psychotropic Medication Use, Evaluation and Review in Aged Care, our Be Inspired Program, and Improving resident Engagement. [29] Click here for more information.

Understanding Elder Abuse
There are government websites and private providers that provide detailed information on elder abuse, symptoms and report lines. Please see the ‘Further Information’ tab for helpful resources. Be prepared to speak on the issue of Elder Abuse in group gatherings or to your congregation.

For preliminary information please follow the links below:
Elder Abuse Prevention Unit | Recognising Elder Abuse
Jesus Love in Aged Care | 5 Myths

Involve older people in church life and ministry
Too often, older people in church communities are not offered opportunities to serve and contribute meaningfully. Seek to involve older people in your church community as contributors. The suggestions in the blog post below may provide a starting point.
Thom S Rainer | Seven Ways to Involve Older People in Your Church

Caring for the frail
Loving older people will also motivate us to be educated and to educate our congregations and communities. As with other forms of abuse, there are signs and symptoms of elder abuse, but unless we educate ourselves and those around us, we will not notice and be able to respond appropriately.

Caring for Carers
Carer stress and isolation are predictors of elder abuse. The more support the church provides for older people and their carers, the less abuse will occur. It takes a village to care for people who are living with frailty.

Advocacy
We can combat elder abuse through advocacy. Elder abuse is still comparatively unknown, so the church can be proactive in guarding against elder abuse among its own, as well as championing the prevention of elder abuse within society. [30] There are excellent opportunities through the current Royal Commission to make submissions. Visit the Royal Commission Page here.

Advocacy will be propelled by church leaders who speak to their congregations and in group settings. Consider how you can address these issues in a public forum to both older and younger audiences.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), 15 June annually

Dementia Awareness Month, September annually

World Alzheimer’s Day, 21 September annually

International Day of Older Persons, October 1 annually

[1] Ben Boland, ‘Guarding against Elder Abuse in Church’, Eternity News, 5 July 2018, https://www.eternitynews.com.au/opinion/guarding-against-elder-abuse-in-church/, https://www.eternitynews.com.au/opinion/guarding-against-elder-abuse-in-church/.
[2] Sarah Knapton, ‘Lack of Respect for Elderly May Be Fuelling Alzheimer’s Epidemic, Warn Scientists’, The Telegraph, 7 December 2015, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/elder/12037426/Lack-of-respect-for-elderly-may-be-fuelling-Alzheimers-epidemic-warn-scientists.html.
[3] Ben Boland, Jesus Love in Aged Care 5 Myths, accessed 23 January 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWHmkjRj_xU.
[4] Lucia Silecchia, ‘Elderly at Special Risk in a “Throwaway Culture”’, Crux, 15 June 2017, https://cruxnow.com/global-church/2017/06/15/elderly-special-risk-throwaway-culture/.
[5] ‘Australian Demographic Challenges – The Economic Implications of an Ageing Population’, Australian Government – The Treasury, accessed 23 January 2019, http://demographics.treasury.gov.au/content/_download/australias_demographic_challenges/html/adc-04.asp.
[6] Lillian Jeter, ‘Facts on Elder Abuse – Australia’, February 2011, 2.
[7] ‘Elder Abuse, Gender and Sexuality’ (Seniors Rights Victoria), 2, accessed 24 January 2019, https://seniorsrights.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Elder-Abuse-Gender-and-Sexuality.pdf.
[8] Silecchia, ‘Elderly at Special Risk in a “Throwaway Culture”’.
[9] ‘Elder Abuse Online Toolkit – What Is Elder Abuse?’, Seniors Rights Victoria, accessed 23 January 2019, https://toolkit.seniorsrights.org.au/toolkit/what-is-elder-abuse/.
[10] ‘Elder Abuse’, Elder Abuse Prevention Unit, accessed 24 January 2019, https://www.eapu.com.au/elder-abuse.
[11] Robin Seaton Jefferson, ‘Addressing How We Talk About Aging Never Gets Old: “Whatever You Do, Don’t Say Elderly”’, Forbes, accessed 24 January 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/robinseatonjefferson/2017/08/24/addressing-how-we-talk-about-aging-never-gets-old-whatever-you-do-dont-say-elderly/.
[12] ‘WHO | Elder Abuse’, World Health Organization, accessed 23 January 2019, http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/elder_abuse/en/.
[13] ‘Australian Demographic Challenges – The Economic Implications of an Ageing Population’.
[14] ‘Profile of Elder Abuse in Victoria’ (National Ageing Research Institute, June 2015), 3, https://seniorsrights.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Summary-Report_Profile-of-Elder-Abuse-in-Victoria_Final.pdf.
[15] ‘Profile of Elder Abuse in Victoria’, 18.
[16] ‘Profile of Elder Abuse in Victoria’, 9.
[17] ‘Profile of Elder Abuse in Victoria’, 3.
[18] ‘Profile of Elder Abuse in Victoria’, 38.
[19] ‘Elder Abuse’, Text, Australian Institute of Family Studies, accessed 24 January 2019, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/elder-abuse/export.
[20] ‘Profile of Elder Abuse in Victoria’, 3.
[21] ‘Profile of Elder Abuse in Victoria’, 13.
[22] ‘Profile of Elder Abuse in Victoria’, 13.
[23] ‘Profile of Elder Abuse in Victoria’, 14.
[24] ‘Warnings of Online Scams Targeting Older Australians’, Aged Care Guide, 22 March 2019, https://www.agedcareguide.com.au/talking-aged-care/warnings-of-online-scams-targeting-older-australians.
[25] Mark Bowling, ‘Care Options Coming Home for Seniors Living at Homeahead of Aged-Care Royal Commission’ (The Catholic Leader, 23 January 2019), http://catholicleader.com.au/news/care-options-coming-home-for-seniors-living-at-home-ahead-of-aged-care-royal-commission.
[26] Tim Dornin, ‘Royal Commission Asks: Is the Aged Care Sector Fit for Purpose?’ (In Daily, 18 January 2019), https://indaily.com.au/news/2019/01/18/aged-care-royal-commission-opens-amid-rising-torrent-of-concern/.
[27] Meagan Dillon, ‘Regulation of Healthcare Support Staff Needed amid “Chronic Illness Tsunami”’, Text, ABC News, 22 March 2019, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-22/nurses-call-for-the-regulation-of-healthcare-support-staff/10924238.
[28] ‘Statement On Domestic And Family Violence’, Australian Baptist Ministries, 24 November 2017, https://www.baptist.org.au/statement-on-domestic-and-family-violence/.
[29] ‘Care and Support – About Our Care’, Baptcare, accessed 24 March 2019, https://www.baptcare.org.au/services/aged-care-homes/about-our-residential-aged-care/about-our-care.
[30] Boland, ‘Guarding against Elder Abuse in Church’.

Last Updated: March 2019

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