New research into elder abuse ‘could help combat growing issue’

Elder abuse is a growing issue and one that can take a number of forms – both physical, and mental.

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And now, new research has been announced to “identify and measure the extent of the problem” in order for experts to continue to combat it.

When discussing elder abuse, there are a range of behaviours that fall in under the category. Put simply by the Elder Abuse Prevent Unit, however, it occurs where there is an imbalance of power in the relationships between people, where the dominant person or persons causes harm or distress to an older person. It excludes self-neglect, where a person fails to provide for their own needs, and it does not include when a crime is committed by an unknown perpetrator.

The abuse often occurs within a relationship of trust, even within families, and results in harm to the elderly person. That can be emotional, psychological, financial, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect.

Now, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) is leading a research project, named the ‘Elder Abuse National Research Project’, which aims to look at the issue more closely – and identify key factors behind it.

Read more: What you can do about elder abuse

“As older people make up an increasing proportion of the Australian population the potential reach of the abuse of older people may grow,” Rachel Carson, Manager of the Family Law and Family Violence Team at AIFS, said. “To protect older people from abuse, we must first be able to identify and measure the extent of the problem.”

It will look at three key components. First, developing an Australian definition of “elder abuse”, while secondly, going on to “test data collection tools against the definition”, to assess if it will work in an Australian context. Finally, experts will analyse the data and try to answer questions about elder abuse.

“We’re keen to make sure that we’re measuring the right things in the future,” Dr Carson added. “We’ve been speaking with a range of interested people, including community advocates, policy makers and service providers to help inform our research focusing on the definition of ‘elder abuse’.”

Read more: Elder abuse on the rise thanks to greedy Gen Y

A previous report by the AIFS last year stated at least one in 10 older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year and evidence suggests that most abuse is intra-familial and inter-generational.

There are the obvious signs of elder abuse, such as when there is physical harm or sexual abuse, but there are also far more subtle forms that can be difficult to spot among family members, friends and even care givers.

The issue of elder abuse is of increasing concern. A past AIFS report predicted by 2050 a little more than one-fifth of the population will be over the age of 65 while roughly five per cent of the population will be aged 85 or more.