Hidden shame of elder abuse - 15 June 2011

Elder abuse shame

Hidden shame of elder abuse

A comprehensive media campaign on family violence in the Queenstown district opened with this headline — Hidden Shame of Elder Abuse.

The campaign ran during April and May and was led by Jigsaw Central Lakes in collaboration with the Otago Daily Times and Media Works radio stations.

While reporting of elder abuse is on the increase, it still remains hidden in many cases with victims feeling extreme shame when being abused by family members, often their own children.

An average of two cases of elder abuse are confirmed every day in New Zealand, up to 80% of the abuse is at the hands of family members.

Wednesday 15 June is Elder Abuse Awareness Day and all over New Zealand organisations who work with older people who experience violence from family members or carers will be speaking out about elder abuse.

Real life stories gathered by Age Concern illustrate common types of elder abuse, see below.

Mary's Story

Mary, 69, used to live happily by herself. She works but is looking forward to retiring soon and spending time with her friends and family.

About two years ago, Mary agreed to let her unemployed son move in with her while he looked for another flat. Things started off ok, but slowly changed. She couldn't eat her meals at the table like she always had before, because he'd leave motorbike parts all over it — he reconditioned motors to earn a bit of money on the side. The place was a mess and every time she asked him to help clean up a bit he'd shout and swear at her. He didn't pay board and ate everything in the house.

"I wanted to retire but while he was here I couldn't. I couldn't afford to. I asked him to leave but he wouldn't listen to me. He'd just say — when I'm ready."

Mary's other son didn't like what was happening to his mum, and got in touch with the local elder abuse and neglect prevention service. The Coordinator visited Mary and they talked through what could be done to make her life better.

"One day, after we'd met a few times, we worked out a way to get him to leave. I was a bit scared, but I couldn't do it on my own. So I went out knowing that while I was gone, Sarah, the Coordinator, would go round to my place and serve a trespass notice on him requiring him to move out."

"It is so nice now. You know, Sarah is just an amazing woman. Now I can sleep better. And I haven't had any serious health problems since he's been gone. You know, I'd ended up in hospital twice while he was living with me. I think it must have been stress."

"I hope being forced to move out has changed his life for the better. I know it has for me. He is still my son you know, and I love him no matter what. But he had to go and Sarah helped make that happen. Now I can get on with my life."

Mr MacDonald's Story (as told by an Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Service Coordinator)

"Mr MacDonald, 76, came to me extremely distressed. He had loaned his son a large sum of money, using his house as security. But his son's business failed and the loan could not be repaid. When I met Mr MacDonald, he was about to be made homeless due to a mortgagee sale of his house.

Over the next few weeks, I worked with the bank, successfully encouraging them to suspend the sale until I could organize safe accommodation for Mr MacDonald. With his permission, I referred Mr MacDonald for a needs assessment and geriatric assessment because he was finding it more and more difficult living by himself and "getting everyday things done". The assessments showed that he was eligible for rest home care. So we went visiting a few of the local ones and found one (with an available bed — not always possible in this community!) that he liked. Only trouble was, he had a dog, an old dog that was blind and deaf, that he loved dearly and which he didn't want to be parted from.

So...what now? Well, one of the other staff at Age Concern had a dog so I checked out if she was willing to add another member to her ‘family'. I introduced them to each other (people and dogs!) and that was it.

Mr MacDonald is now happily in the rest home and his dog comes to visit every week. I had to do some negotiation with the rest home and with Work and Income over accessing the subsidy, but it worked out fine in the end. Mr MacDonald said to me "I wouldn't call the Queen my Aunt — you are amazing. I am so relieved — BIG thank you."

Mrs Stone's Story, aged 83

"After my accident, I spent a long time in hospital. When it was time to go home, there was still a lot I needed help with on a day to day basis. My son and his wife, Peter and Judith, said I could move in with them until I got back on my feet.

They spent most of last year renovating their house — new carpet, all the mod cons — it looks like something out of House and Garden now. Trouble is, seems to me they've put their heart and soul into their house and have nothing left for people. Judith hated the marks my walker left on the new carpet and watched me like a hawk whenever I walked down the hallway, to make sure I didn't bang into the walls and scrape the new wallpaper.

I wasn't allowed to have the heat pump going during the day when they were at work, and Judith refused to cook for me. She wouldn't even let me join them at the dinner table. She told me — "You eat like a pig, dripping your food everywhere. I'm not looking at that when I'm eating. You make me sick." She was very rude and I felt so embarrassed. But you know, she talks like that to Peter too. All my friends and family are scared of her, so no-one came to visit me. If I'd known she was that bad, I wouldn't have gone to stay. Poor Peter.

My daughter was worried about me and contacted Age Concern. When I first met the lady from Age Concern, the Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Coordinator, she asked me how I was. I don't know what came over me but you know, I cried. I never cry in front of other people but I was just so depressed and scared. And I felt so alone. I told her I wanted to leave but I just didn't know how to.

The Coordinator suggested we have a family meeting. I laughed at her. "No way" I said. "Judith will just yell at me and I'll be so embarrassed and nothing will change". But she told me she'd be there and would make sure everyone got a chance to speak. Well we had the meeting. It was pretty tense, and some difficult things were put out into the open, things we should have talked about years ago. But I think they all got the message that I'm still their mother and that I have thoughts and feelings and needs too."

To support Mrs Stone and find a place for her to recuperate safely, the Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention (EANP) Coordinator pulled together help from the local needs assessment provider, local rest homes, and Work and Income. It was agreed that Mrs Stone would complete her recuperation at a nearby rest home. The EANP Coordinator reported that after just three hours at the rest home, Mrs Stone had laughed more than she had in three months! She left Mrs Stone with a drink in her hand, listening to someone playing the piano and a smile like a Cheshire cat!

When the daughter who had referred Mrs Stone to the EANP Service visited her, Mrs Stone just lifted her glass and grinned. Her daughter was so thrilled and happy, she cried. "I didn't think you would be able to get her out so quickly. You are a miracle worker."

Pansy's Story (as told by an Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Service Coordinator)

78 year old Pansy was in a really unsafe position due to her family members' drug and alcohol abuse. When I met her I realised straight away that we were going to have to take some radical measures to get her safe and keep her that way.

Unfortunately the house was rented by one of her sons, so trespass orders and the like weren't an option. Instead I worked with our local Council housing team. We found her a new place to live. We got her an unlisted phone number and had her name taken off the Electoral Roll so she would be harder to find. Pansy and I talked through other things we could do together, to make sure people looked out for her, and that if her family did find her again, she had some strategies to keep herself safe. "Girl, I can't thank you enough. I feel safe and happy for the first time in a long time - you're the tops!"


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