Tuesday 16 June 2009

It's an abuse not to talk about abuse

Anne Meehan, a social worker with the Cairns Community Legal Centre, knows what it's like to feel discrimination as residents enter older age.

"This is an issue for everybody, and all generations," Anne Meehan told CairnsBlog. "We need to take care of our older people, particular those over 60, however there may be other culture or health reasons where people experience age-related issues at an earlier age."

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was celebrated in Cairns yesterday, with 15 support organisations converging on City Place, to talk about the often taboo subject.

"Older people today are more visible, more active, and more independent than ever before," Anne Meehan says. "They're living longer and in better health, however as the population of older Australians grows, so does the hidden problem of elder abuse, neglect, mistreatment and exploitation."

The 4th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, is an international UN-sanctioned initiative, provides an opportunity to highlight the role that older people play in our community. However, more importantly, it provides an opportunity to discuss abuse, in any form, aimed at our older citizens, will not be tolerated.

"We are recognising and responding to the mistreatment of older people in whatever setting it occurs," Anne Meehan says. "In the latter years of life, people should be free from abuse, neglect and exploitation."

"This awareness day will highlight the contribution that older people make in the community and showcase the rich talent that is here in Cairns."

In Cairns we provide social and legal advice, which focuses on elder abuse, that is within a relationship of trust," Anne says. "So that's family, friends." This also cover financial exploitation, which can be with banks, Telstra-type companies, even dodgy repairmen, all sorts of things."

"Our numbers have grown but this may reflect that now there is this awareness and there is services out there to help. Older people often don't have an expectation that there is anyone to help them. They may be embarrassed, if the abuser is a friend or family member, so for them to contact someone like our organisation is a big step, when they say 'I want this to stop.' "

"We will often advocate on behalf of these older people or elders," Anne says. "We put ourselves where domestic violence and child abuse was 20 years ago, where it's about getting it out, and making this not a taboo subject to talk about."

Sometimes older citizens don't know if it's abuse. We say, if it doesn't feel right, contact somebody and talk about it."

It can often be around people making family arrangements, like housing. It can be the older person that can be homeless or near to homeless with their money gone when decisions are made without their involvement."
Fiona Sewell broadcast her ABC Far North show live from City Place yesterday, and talked with Maya Zetlin from the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit. You can listen to her interview here.

The services offered are free to anyone. Elder is a term of respect in the indigenous community, Anne Meehan says, however acknowledges similar issues appear across cultures.

Closer to home I recall an elderly couple, who are my neighbours, were presented with a fait accompli at their Body Corporate meeting last year. A motion was presented to decide spending several thousand dollars on a digital television installation system for the apartment block.

They were told by StrataLink, the Body Corporate Manager and also a resident in the block, that if they didn't vote for it, regardless if the motion got passed, they would not get the service. They also were not informed that a similar service could be obtained by purchasing a simple set-top box for around $50. After I gave them some information, they 70-year-old challenged the meeting and over-turned the entire motion.

I cited this story with Anne Meehan and she agreed that often older people get bullied.

"You can get fed information by a little upstart when they say this is what you do, but it's not what you have to do," Anne says. "We often deal with issues around their body corporate situations.

The Cairns Seniors Legal and Support Service is a pilot project, funded through the Government's Department of Communities. You can find them on the 1st floor, Main Street Arcade, 85 Lake Street, Cairns, or telephone 4031 7179.

You can call Elder Abuse Prevention on telephone 1300 651 192


the cat's vomit said...

and often the worst abuse of seniors happens within the bone fide Aged Care organisations itself.....

Gary Ferguson said...

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is a powerful way to raise awareness about abuse, mistreatment and neglect of older people. Congratulations to the organisers of the Cairns events on raising awareness in such a public way. It will certainly assist older people to know they don't have to endure such treatment.

Gary Ferguson,
Community Eduction Officer,
Seniors Rights Victoria

Elahn Zetlin said...

The picture at the beginning of your post is of Maya Zetlin not Anne Meehan. I should know, she's my wonderful mother.