WA Police, Relationships Australia and the McGowan Government have all highlighted the complex issue of elder abuse with more than 75,000 Western Australians thought to be potential victims.
Relationships Australia national executive officer Alison Brook said early intervention with families was an effective way of reducing elder abuse.
Ms Brook said there were positive steps that could be taken to prevent elder abuse and send a message to older people and their families that they could seek help to manage difficult emotional or financial situations.
“If families are given the support and tools to work together, overcome differences and respectfully resolve conflict, the interests, health and safety of their elders and other family members can be met and protected,” she said.
“Relationships Australia has a holistic counselling and mediation service that responds to the rising levels of elder abuse and other ageing related issues being experienced by contemporary Australian families.
“As we work with elderly clients and their families we often find that a range of issues are unearthed that we can help address through our other services, including unresolved property matters, gambling addiction, poor mental health, financial problems and family violence.
“The most common presenting issue to our services in our pilot study was family relationship problems (58 per cent).
“These included conflict, fragile relationships, disrespectful behaviour, poor communication, estrangement and elder abuse.
“Family relationship problems were evident in relationships between parents and siblings, and/or between sibling groups.
“In 50 per cent of cases the presenting issue related to the future care or housing arrangements, often compounded by family conflict, family violence, estrangement, and grief and loss.
“In 25 per cent of cases family violence was an issue perpetrated by adult children, older people and between members of sibling groups.”
WA Police assistant commissioner Lawrence Panaia said elder abuse was a complex and sometimes poorly understood issue.
“Often perpetrators don’t even realise that what they are doing is harmful or potentially illegal, particularly when it is adult children taking control of their parents’ assets, which they may feel they are entitled to do,” she said.
“Abuse of older people tends to be a hidden issue and it can be hard for victims to access help.
“Older victims are often reluctant to report to police because they want to protect the perpetrator, particularly if it is a family member.”
The World Health Organisation estimates that 15.7 per cent of people 60 years and older may have experienced elder abuse, and with Australia’s ageing population, these figures are likely to increase.’’
Seniors and Ageing Minister Mick Murray said the state government had co-chaired the National Plan to Combat Elder Abuse alongside the Federal Government to help inform WA’s contribution to the national plan.
Mr Murray said financial abuse was the most common type of elder abuse reported in Western Australia.
“We need to close the gap between understanding the problem, recognising when abuse is occurring and taking action to stop it,’’ he said.
“While elder abuse has been a significant problem in the community for some time, there is still a lack of awareness and understanding about the issue, and it is my hope that the summit elevates the issue in the minds of the community.”
If you suspect that an older person is experiencing abuse, you can contact police on 131 444.
People wanting to access Relationships Australia’s elder relationship Services can visit https://relationshipswa.org.au or call 1300 364 277.
The Relationships Australia website says an elder support and relationship service will operate at Joondalup for a 12-month trial period from September 1, 2017.