ELDER ABUSE: the reason it occurs are multifaceted.
ELDER ABUSE: the reason it occurs are multifaceted. pookpiik

Elder Abuse: Why does it occur?

THE REASONS elder abuse happens and is perpetuated are complex and confronting.

There is no starting point to explain it. Rather, it's a large web of often interconnected issues.

An age attitude conflict appears to be arising from the older generation being healthier, wealthier and living longer, and tapping more into government resources to support them in their ageing.

But the reasons for why elder abuse doesn't stop there.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson said there are a myriad of causes and types of elder abuse.

"The majority is financial abuse and the evidence we have to date is it is more likely to be (against) women," Dr Patterson said.

"It's sometimes a spouse, but more often a son or daughter.

"It maybe because they have a problem, like with alcohol or gambling or mental health illness, or they have a sense of entitlement that 'you have lived too long, you have these assets, I should have part of it'.

"Sometimes it might not start as abuse.

"It might be' come and live with us and will be able to buy a house with a granny flat at the back', but that all falls through.

"Sometimes it starts with the best of intent, but it deteriorates.

"Sometimes its sinister from the beginning.

"It's a multitude of factors and sometimes its slides from one to other."

Inheritance Impatience

The younger generation are leaning heavily on their parents for money, accommodation, free grandchild sitting services, and more, while impatiently focusing back on themselves.

They are staying at home enjoying the multi-generational living arrangements which help them save money and sometimes avoid the immediate need of generating their own income.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies in their November 2016 report titled Attitudes Towards Intergenerational Support, said the majority of its study respondents believed, "parents ought to provide financial support to their adult children and vice versa, and parents ought to let their adult children live with them".

So, there appears to be an agreement that children staying at home, or returning home during their adult years, is not unexpected, and in fact may be welcome, but it's what happens when the children do return home or turn to lean on their parents for financial and emotional help throughout their adult years.

Added in the mix is this attitude of inheritance impatience which Senior Rights Victoria manger Jenny Blakey said is driving the younger generation to expect that what is their parents now, is theirs as well.

"As the housing crises increases, and people are living longer, you create an intersection of people who thought they might have inherited some money from their parents at 75, but their parents are now living to 85 and 90," Dr Patterson said.


Dr Patterson believes there is a lack of education, in relevant courses, about older people.

"In some ways our education institutions need to look more carefully at the clientele of their future professionals and understand about older people," Dr Patterson said.

"Lawyers, accountants, doctors, health science, human resources people all need to know.

"It's about working on more positive attitudes about well, older people.

"There is a role for education and particularly education of younger people who are going, at aged 23 and 24, into professions where they are dealing with older people on a frequent basis."

There is also the issue of a lack of understanding by people who hold Powers of Attorney about their legal and moral responsibilities.

"A person has a power of attorney document and goes to the bank and says they can act on an older person's bank account," Dr Patterson said.

"Maybe they start off acting responsibly, then they take maybe a $1000 more 'cause I have been doing extra things for Mum', and they justify taking a bit more. It starts off with good intent, but slides into taking more than they should. Also, they see it as acting on their behalf."

Former ACT aged care advocate worker Jane Harriss remembers asking a client what she thought her husband's Power of Attorney document meant.

"She said, 'it means I've got control over his life'," Ms Harriss said.

Government's language

Ms Harriss argues the government needs to take responsibility for the language they use when referring to older Australians.

"They talk about the burden of ageing," she said.

"They constantly talk about (older Australians) being an economic burden."

Learned behaviour

In some cases, elder abuse may originate from learned behaviour.

If a child's role-modelling comes from watching elder abuse happen as they grew up, then it is likely they will carry that behaviour into their adult years.

A Canadian Government health report into family violence, published in 2016, goes some way towards supporting this theory.

"Problem behaviours in adolescence such as being violent, criminal behaviour or anti-social behaviour, are strongly related to being abusive or violent in relationships later in life.

"This may be because being violence is seen as seen as a normal way to behave," the report stated.

Ms Blakey said, "There are instances where the adult child may have broken up from their partner because of family violence; typically an adult son.

"They are then kicked out of their home, or they have to leave, and they move to their parents, and bring that violent behaviour with them."

Another cause of elder abuse may be the reversal of role between generations.

"It's about power," Ms Harriss said.

"Especially If you have people who haven't had a good relationship with their parent and they then have power over their parent."


"(Elder abuse) is very different from partner-on-partner abuse," Dr Patterson said.

"Some people argue it's a more complex form of family abuse because it has different elements to it.

"One is, if you have partner-on-partner abuse and get to the point where you are not going to tolerate it anymore and you get out, there is a chance if you are not persecuted or stalked, of moving away from that relationship and moving on.

"And usually the family will come around you.

"But in elder abuse, you can't wipe out the past and say 'well, that was a bad experience, I will start my family life over again'."

Where the children are the abusers, the sense of guilt of doing the wrong thing is strong.

The parents worry that they weren't good parents.

They fear losing their relationship with their child, or destroying the family unit and becoming isolated.

Often they don't want people to know what their son or daughter has done to them, hiding the reality instead.

"They often don't want to take criminal action against their own children," Ms Harriss said.

For many older Australians, as their friends and older family members die or move away, and their physical ability to get out in the community gets harder and their cognitive abilities decline, they are likely to become more vulnerable and more dependent on others close to them.

Changing the attitudes of the younger generations so that they learn respect and come to value the older generation is going to be a long, hard road for all involved.

For further information on seniors' rights and elder abuse, contact Lifeline on 13 11 44, or 1800 RESPECT or talk to your GP.

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