The distressing reality is that abuse of older people can manifest itself in various forms, often remaining hidden from plain sight. Psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, financial and neglectful abuse are all prevalent issues faced by the elderly.
To shield oneself from potential abuse, Karen Williams, Principal Solicitor at ADA Law, emphasises the importance of assembling a reliable support team. Williams acknowledges the challenge of anticipating a future marked by vulnerability, where legal authority is entrusted to another individual for decision-making.
“That time won’t come for everybody, but the older we get, the more likely it becomes,” Williams cautions.
Building a support team equipped with the right skills is crucial, according to Williams. She emphasises that systems won’t automatically fall into place; active effort is necessary. “You need a team around you—for both the good and bad days,” she advises.
When selecting a substitute decision-maker, such as an attorney or an enduring guardian, objectivity is key. Williams suggests approaching the decision as if hiring someone for a job. Consider who can be trusted with finances, who will honour your wishes in medical situations and who will advocate for you when needed.
The best candidate may not always be a family member or close friend.
Williams further recommends reviewing plans and legal documents every 12 months to ensure their relevance to current circumstances. “It’s not set and forget. You need to ensure the plan is current for where you are now,” she explains. Human nature sometimes leads individuals to cut corners, but this practice should be avoided when it comes to protecting oneself from potential abuse.
In addition to selecting a trusted decision-maker, Williams advises appointing someone to a monitoring role within one’s network. This individual, who can be a professional, would oversee financial statements and ensure that everything is in order. Monitoring is crucial, as instances of elder abuse often occur when attorneys believe nobody is scrutinising their actions. Cutting corners becomes easier, ultimately leading to neglect or abuse.
For those seeking further assistance in protecting themselves from harm, OPAN provides a comprehensive Self-Advocacy Toolkit. The organisation’s advocates offer independent and confidential information to older individuals experiencing abuse or neglect within the aged care system. They also conduct educational sessions in residential aged care homes and community settings to help identify and prevent abuse.
To speak with an aged care advocate, individuals can contact OPAN at 1800 700 600 or submit a form on their website. In cases requiring immediate help, the National Elder Abuse Helpline can be reached at 1800 353 374.
The surge in abuse calls reported to OPAN highlights the urgent need for older Australians to take proactive steps in safeguarding themselves against potential harm. By building a strong support network and regularly reviewing plans, individuals can significantly reduce their vulnerability to abuse and neglect.