AUSTRALIA is “at least” 10 years behind the US when it comes to protecting and upholding the rights of vulnerable senior citizens, but the Newcastle community is banding together to take an interdisciplinary approach to resolve the problems, Kim Boettcher says.
The Sydney barrister and expert on elder abuse and retirement law was in Newcastle on Thursday to share her knowledge at a Hunter Elder Abuse Reference Group meeting.
Ms Boettcher said she expected the Aged Care Royal Commission would have a “huge impact” on the sector.
“I think it will be a warning to everybody that they need to lift their standards to a minimum appropriate level, rather than have sub-standard behaviour and practices going on and continuing in the institutional environment,” she said. “But not only in the institutional environment – also for the individuals who are not in aged care accommodation.”
Ms Boettcher said she had seen some horrific cases of elder abuse, which she described as a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there was an expectation of trust which caused harm or distress to an older person.
“After someone has passed away, and relatives are fighting over their estate, too often there is evidence of elder abuse from a family member,” she said. “I also see a lot of financial abuse by people who have befriended the older person and may move into their properties, may take over their finances. It is a shame when I see it after the person has passed away – rather than society doing something about it while they are still alive.”
Ms Boettcher said there needed to be repercussions for people who abused older people in both the civil and criminal law systems. Appropriate laws around administering medication unlawfully to an older person, unlawful restraint of an elder, aggravated breach of fiduciary duty, and aggravated undue influence did not yet exist in Australia.
“Legislation needs to change,” she said. “Everybody gets old, and we should not stand idly by while other people do the wrong thing.”
Local lawyer Catherine Henry said elder abuse was a prevalent and often hidden issue in the region. She said it was estimated that at least five per cent of older people experienced financial abuse.
“With more than 113,000 people in the Hunter aged 65 years and above, that is potentially more than 5600 people being taken advantage of, often by family.”
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