Effects of elder abuse
The effects of elder abuse are wide ranging and can impact individuals, their support networks and the broader community. Below you will find just some of the ways elder abuse is known to affect people, as well as some steps you can take to prevent these effects.
One of the biggest ways older people are affected is by the breakdown of family and other relationships. In many instances, older people may need to take protective or legal action against a family member in order to stop the abuse, regain control of their finances or assert their rights. In some cases, this can lead to ongoing relationship breakdown with the perpetrator and create divides between other family members, friends, support networks and community members.
It is not always possible to reclaim money, property or other assets in every elder abuse situation. When older people experience financial loss, it can affect their quality of life in many ways. It might mean:
There is a strong association between elder abuse and a range of negative health outcomes. These include:
Preventing elder abuse
Nearly every older person has spent a lifetime trying to foster positive relationships among family and avoid conflicts. For many people, some of these prevention tips may appear at first to be ‘overly cautious’ or ‘too formal for family’. Often this is because people do not believe elder abuse would happen within their family. It is important to note that no one expects to experience abuse or financial loss from family members, particularly their own children, who make up around 75% of perpetrators in elder abuse cases. It’s not ‘overly cautious’ or ‘too formal’ to want to protect yourself and continue preserving family relationships as best you can.
Whatever your situation, there are three key principles to keep in mind. These are:
Seek professional advice that is independent and solely focused on your interests
Independent advice is exactly that. Whether you are seeking legal, financial or other advice, independent advice is:
This does not include someone giving advice to the family or ‘everyone’ and definitely does not include someone else’s advisor.
There are a large range of situations that have financial and legal implications for your future. Formalising the arrangements in writing, with the assistance of a professional may reduce opportunities for abuse, while making the original arrangements clear. You might consider this before:
Moving in with family or family moving in with you
Living arrangements that do not work out is one of the biggest catalysts for elder abuse. It also has financial and legal implications. This is another time when formalising the arrangements and seeking independent advice (see above) is necessary. Family agreements can help with keeping people accountable and making the arrangements clear from the outset. How long will the arrangements last, will it involve care and what will that care look like? What will happen when things change?
Making an Enduring Power of Attorney or other advance planning documents
Having an Enduring Power of Attorney can act as a vital safeguard in times when you cannot look after yourself. It is, however, important to carefully consider who you choose to appoint as your attorney(s), as attorney powers can be misused. If you choose to make an Enduring Power of Attorney or other similar document, there may be ways to increase accountability of those who may act for you in the future. Choosing the right person(s) for the right attorney role may also reduce the opportunity for mismanagement or abuse. There are ways to limit and/or make clear how you would like your attorney(s) to act.
Making a Will
Making a Will is about making your wishes clear when you die. When there is money, assets or businesses left behind, of which there are no clear arrangements in a Will, it can cause serious family disputes for those left behind, such as a spouse. This is particularly true in blended families.
Staying connected with people and the community
Social isolation is a big risk factor for elder abuse. Social connections are important for our mental health, safety and overall wellbeing. Older people face many barriers to staying connected, which many of us take for granted — for example, retiring from the workforce, loss of friends and family or even a driver’s licence. We need to continue to ask ourselves, “if I was really in trouble who could I tell?”
If you could only think of a few (or less) you might need to think about trying to proactively form some new social connections. Friends help keep an eye on each other.
Supporting primary carers
Many people acting as a primary carer underestimate the possibility that they might experience carer stress over time. It is not uncommon for an older person’s care needs to increase and the role to become more demanding. Having others regularly check in with primary carers is important. Where possible, sharing the caregiving duties, emotional support and/or financial support can greatly lower the stress of caring for an older family member. It can also increase the number of people keeping an eye on things.