Extract from an article by Joseph Ibrahim, Professor, Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University and Lyndal Bugeja, Associate Professor, Monash University.
The good news is that Australia is doing something positive to improve the lives of our parents and grandparents. The bad news is we can no longer pretend there are golden years awaiting us all in old age.
The release today of the long awaited Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) report into elder abuse is a substantial step forward in addressing physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and financial abuse of the elderly.
As expected, the report only addresses the legal aspects of elder abuse. What is missing is the impacts of elder abuse on health and well-being, particularly as older people who are victims of abuse and neglect are more likely to die earlier.
Despite this gap, we need to be brave enough to read the 428 page report, and act on the 43 recommendations.
Australia’s recent examples of confronting other sources of abuse and neglect – including the harm to the Stolen Generation, child sexual abuse, family violence and abuse of people with a mental illness – should prepare us to take this next step.
Aged care a major target
A total of 14 out of the ALRC’s 43 recommendations are about improving aged care, in both residential settings and the home.
Recommendations include improving the reporting and monitoring of serious incidents, such as sexual or physical abuse, with the process to be overseen by an independent body. While a reporting system will not prevent abuse, it is an essential and welcome first step.
Another recommendation addresses the perennial matter about quality of care and staffing in residential aged care services, including looking at optimal staffing models and levels.
How little we know
We know older people are at greater risk of abuse and neglect than the general population because of their physical frailty, cognitive impairment, multiple illnesses, social isolation, and need for assistance with personal or domestic tasks.
Yet, there is currently little information about the overall number and severity of incidents of elder abuse and neglect in Australia. Our recent analysis of coroners’ investigations into extreme incidents leading to death goes part way to addressing that issue.
So we welcome the report’s recommendation of a national study to tell us how common elder abuse in Australia is. Perhaps what is most confronting is that we do not already collect this information, even though we know it is occurring.
For instance, there’s evidence of nursing home residents who assault other residents, sexual assault and the use of physical restraint in aged care. But we have no overall picture of what’s happening.
SOURCE: Ibrahim, Joseph and Bugeja, Lyndall. “Elder Abuse Report Ignores Impact on People’s Health.” The Conversation, 15 June 2017.
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia