Abuse of the elderly is a hidden shame of the community.
Abuse of the elderly is a hidden shame of the community. Bev Lacey

Abuse of elderly a hidden shame

ELDER abuse is an increasing problem in our society. It is often hard to identify and there are many ways it can be inflicted on vulnerable older people.

It is important to identify the signs of such abuse early and understand the legal rights available.

Elder abuse occurs where there is a relationship of trust exists and there is any act that results in harm to an older person.

Such abuse not only includes physical abuse but can also be emotional, sexual, psychological and financial abuse.

Elder abuse may often be inflicted by close family members and such acts may include financial abuse by using an Enduring Power of Attorney to take money or property without the consent of the older person, selling their possessions without permission or taking money from their pension.

It can also commonly occur where a person is harassed to change their will or transfer their land. Denying a person the ability make their own decisions or control their own funds is also a common form of such abuse.

Many older people often do not report elder abuse, particularly in circumstances where it is committed by a close family member because of embarrassment, shame, fear of retaliation or being forced into a nursing home for speaking out.

As elder abuse takes many forms, there are many laws that may apply both in criminal and civil jurisdictions.

Under the criminal law, charges such as stealing and fraud may apply where the terms of an Enduring Power of Attorney are abused or by taking money or property from a person without their consent.

Where physical abuse occurs, charges may include assault, serious assault, deprivation of liberty and criminal negligence.

Where property damage occurs charges may include wilful damage.

In circumstances where property such as land has been transferred without consent or by duress, the courts have the power to make orders for the land to be transferred back or sold and the proceeds returned to the claimant.

If the older person has died and their will has been altered, either by duress or at a time when they did not have the mental capacity, the will can be challenged in the court by interested persons and in appropriate circumstances the previous will upheld.

Elder abuse is complex and many times the perpetrators remain concealed behind family relationships or because of fear by the victim.

It is important for friends, family and medical professionals to make themselves aware of the signs of such abuse and when appropriate seek professional advice and assistance.

Where elder abuse is suspected or is occurring, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible to understand what rights are available and what actions can be taken to prevent such abuse continuing.

Lawyers are bound by strict rules of confidentiality and a person should not fear seeking professional advice.

In an emergency situation, they should call Triple Zero and the government has also setup an Elder Abuse Helpline for free confidential advice - 1300 651192 (Queensland only) or (07) 3867 2525 (rest of Australia).

The Office of the Public Guardian is an independent body set up to protect the rights and interests of adults who have an impaired capacity to make their own decisions.

Shane Ulyatt is a senior associate of Sunshine Coast legal firm Greenhalgh Pickard

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