Cultural shift is needed to re-ignite respect for elders
When was the last time you heard someone say “respect your elders”? It seems to me that this value has been lost in recent years.
Recently I was honoured to table the final report of the Select Committee into Elder Abuse. This 12month parliamentary inquiry has convinced me elder abuse is a hidden scourge in our community.
The ageing process is a universal human experience, independent of race, religion or gender. It is ironic that a society that encourages people to live longer discriminates against those who do reach old age.
Up to 75,000 older people are at risk of elder abuse in WA. Most perpetrators of elder abuse are closely related to the victim and there is a strong connection between elder abuse and family violence.
Elder abuse encompasses financial, psychological-emotional, physical, sexual and social abuse. It also includes neglect.
Psychological and financial abuse often occur in tandem, where a perpetrator may “groom” a vulnerable older person using psychologically abusive behaviours, such as threats or manipulation, so that they are more susceptible to financial abuse.
Witnesses advised the committee of the common occurrence where an older person enters into an arrangement with their adult child to build an extension or new dwelling on the child’s land, with the older person’s savings used to contribute to or fund the project.
The committee heard devastating stories of West Australians who found themselves homeless and destitute following the deterioration of the family relationship and after the parent is told by their child to leave the home.
Mr Michael Bowyer, principal legal officer for the Office of the Public Trustee, gave evidence to the committee about early inheritance syndrome.
Mr Bower cited an example where a woman had said: “That’s mine. It’s been left to me in the will.” Mr Bowyer’s response to her was: “But he’s not dead yet and he needs the money now.”
My hope is that the committee’s report will be a catalyst for WA Government action to shine a light into this dark place.
One of the most effective ways to prevent elder abuse in the community is to raise awareness.
Social isolation and loneliness is one of the biggest risk factors for elder abuse and is a source of vulnerability in older people.
Developing and maintaining relationships and encouraging social inclusion decreases the risk of elder abuse. If our culture continues to shift from self-sacrifice to self-interest then we can expect the rate of elder abuse to rise.
We need to transform our culture into one that respects our elders.
Most perpetrators of elder abuse are closely related to the victim.