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COVID-19 impacts World Elder Abuse Awareness Day but doesn't dampen the message

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was held on 15 June, putting a spotlight on an uncomfortable topic that many don't like to discuss but is vital to acknowledge, with an estimated 10-12 percent of older Australians experiencing a form of elder abuse.

COVID-19 has stopped many of the events that would take place to honour WEAAD, however, the message of prevention and research around elder abuse is still being promoted strongly. [Source: Supplied]
COVID-19 has stopped many of the events that would take place to honour WEAAD, however, the message of prevention and research around elder abuse is still being promoted strongly. [Source: Supplied]

The current COVID-19 pandemic has stopped many of the events and conferences that would take place to honour WEAAD, however, the message of prevention and research around elder abuse is still being promoted strongly.

Age Discrimination Commissioner, Kay Patterson, said at the Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS) online forum for WEAAD last Friday that COVID-19 has increased many of their calls by 15 percent between February to mid-March, with the pandemic identified as the main issue, which was resulting in financial and physiological issues.

Additionally, there were reports from lawyers who were finding a lot of people were making new changes or creating important documents, like Wills or Enduring Power of Attorney (EPOA) documents.

Geoff Rowe, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aged and Disability Advocacy (ADA) Australia, says that COVID-19 has definitely added another layer to the complexity of elder abuse, which is already very underreported and resulting in many unknowns around the issue.

"Elder abuse is really complex. One of the things we do know is that we don't know a lot about elder abuse… Our response to elder abuse was where our response to domestic and family violence was 20 years ago," explains Mr Rowe.

"I think everyone is struggling with elder abuse because of the complexities. Unlike domestic and family violence where the perpetrator tends to be the partner. While it's more often than not a family member, there is no real descriptor that easily identifies who they might be."

Mr Rowe says research from New York shows that around one in 24 cases of elder abuse is recorded, which is more underreported than currently believed.

In his own quest to understand the prevalence of elder abuse and how to combat the problem, Mr Rowe travelled around different countries under the Paul Tys Churchill Fellowship, to investigate the responses from other countries.

He saw how Scotland Yard in England only has one and a half people working on elder abuse, compared to New York who have nearly 120 police officers dedicated to elder abuse and domestic violence.

Mr Rowe believes Australia is somewhere in the middle, and we are not doing as bad as he thought, but there is still room to improve.

However, if Australia doesn't know how big the problem is, then it is hard to ask the Government for funding to combat elder abuse.

In this case, Mr Rowe says, "Knowledge is power."

"WEAAD is an opportunity for the broader community to have a think about the fact or be aware of the fact that elder abuse happens," explains Mr Rowe.

"I think a lot of us like to think that we live in the lucky country and we look after our own, and by and large people will do the right thing, absolutely that is true. But sometimes people don't do the right thing.

"WEAAD is an opportunity for people to take a step back and to talk about something we don't like to talk about. It is not particularly a pleasant subject to talk about.

"Bottom line is, we want the community to be aware of elder abuse, we want them to keep an eye out, and for Government to take a greater interest in a response to elder abuse.

"Governments are taking steps forward and in the right direction but the movement is slower than what we would like."

To find out more about World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, head to the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Australian website.

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