The Government is working to fix a gap in accurate data on elder abuse in New Zealand, with the rate believed to be higher than the latest known figure of one in 10 people aged 65 and over.
It’s launched an awareness video, financial abuse information guide and undercover crossword initiative in a bid to grow awareness in older people and get them to speak up.
In the online video, stories of elder abuse are heard including a son that makes his parent sign over rights to their house, an older man that was told they were a ‘burden’ and an older woman who had her medical dosage increased so she was “easier to look after.”
“We don’t have a large enough count of what’s going on,” Seniors Minister Tracey Martin told 1 News.
The Minister said with an aging population, the issue is only set to grow.
By 2035, it’s predicted there’ll be 1.2 million people aged 65 and over in New Zealand.
She’s urging the banking sector to step up when it comes to recognising the growing issue of financial abuse in its older customers.
Westpac New Zealand’s Grant Fleming said the bank has systems in place but awareness is also important when it comes to detection.
“People are reluctant to come forward and talk about it, including the victims, so the more we can actually take away that stigma that’s attached to it and say, “Hey, this is a thing that happens…” Mr Fleming said.
There’s been an increase in elder abuse cases being reported since the previous Government launched the Elder Abuse Response Service, including 18 support service organisations and a 24/7 helpline, in July last year.
Data has only been collected for the first five months of the service so far, and this shows there’d been 2119 calls and referrals during that time.
During this time, 1311 older people became clients under support.
The previous service, Elder Abuse Neglect and Prevention, did not include a helpline but dealt with 2295 referral which led to 1736 clients in its final year.
An initiative which has seen newspaper crosswords featuring ‘abuse’ as an answer over the last fortnight has led to an increase in calls to 0800 EA IS NOT OK.
Despite a rise in reported cases, as many as three out of four cases remain unreported and abuse can often be hidden through deceptive or subtle actions, meaning sometimes an older person may not realise they’re being abused.
The perpetrators are family members in more than 75 per cent of cases.
Age Concern Auckland chief executive Kevin Lamb said the branch is seeing more referrals for elder abuse and the cases are worsening in seriousness.
“The increase in the number of elder abuse cases is really quite significant and I think that, yes, there is that awareness but also I think the situation underlying that is getting worse,” he said.
He said referrals range from someone taking a person’s Eftpos card on a daily basis to someone being treated as a “virtual slave” in their own house and having their financial means, belongings and dignity removed.
“There is socioeconomic pressure; that more people are struggling financially and the more that we’re seeing that happen in society as a whole, the more people are looking for avenues to get more money for themselves and unfortunately abuse of an older relative is one route.
“Also we’re seeing changes in the way we look after our finances… which often hinders older people protecting themselves,” he said.
Age Concern New Zealand’s Rei Ngatai said older people often question whether they’ve misjudged a behaviour as elder abuse.
“It’s, ‘My moko, and I can’t do that to my moko,’ you know a whanau thing,” she said.
Older people may be told, ‘What do you want to know for, you know I love you, you know I would help you,’ if they approach family members about a deceptive action, she said.
Ms Ngatai said affected people should find someone they trust and talk to them or go to their local Age Concern office.