Martine Rolls: Too little concern for the aged

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Sick and disgusted only mildly describes the way I felt when I read the story about the ordeal of a 74-year-old Pakuranga woman attacked in her home last Saturday.

A man, claiming to be there to offer security advice, tied her hands with shoelaces and beat her viciously before fleeing with bank cards, cash and personal items. The attack was one of seven across Auckland during the past week involving women aged between 69 and 97.

Twenty police staff had been working full-time on the investigation and the wanted man's mug shot was plastered all over the media, plus shared by many on social media pages.

A dog unit and police helicopter found him hiding in the bush near Puhoi on Monday morning, which was excellent news. I was just a little disappointed he surrendered without resistance. A forceful arrest resulting in a few broken bones would have been perfectly okay with me.

I do wonder what drives a person to attack and rip off the most vulnerable people in our society.

The attacks in Auckland are extreme incidents but, unfortunately, elder abuse is a large, widespread problem. It happens here in Tauranga, too. The Bay of Plenty Times has published several stories on it and every one of them made me mad.

Age Concern elder abuse and neglect prevention service co-ordinator Jane Broughton said in a story published in mid-May that there had been a significant increase in elder abuse referrals in Tauranga. The local Age Concern branch received 140 referrals in 2012. What's worse is these figures are just the tip of the iceberg. Most elder abuse stays unreported.

Age Concern has a lot of information about the subject and works hard on prevention. Take a look at their website www.ageconcern.org.nz if you'd like to find out more.

The organisation estimates that two older people are abused psychologically, financially or physically every hour in New Zealand. Those are startling numbers. In most cases, people are being abused by a family member or someone else they trust and, more often than not, the motive is money.

It's obvious there are many selfish, greedy, lazy, unethical and disrespectful people in our midst but how anyone can take advantage of another person for a quick buck, especially if that person is old or otherwise vulnerable, is really beyond me.

My mum will be 70 next year. She's in good health and says she is happy, but I do worry about her now she is getting on in age. She doesn't have an active social life since dad passed away in 2009 and I wonder if she's lonely sometimes.

I occasionally feel sharp pangs of guilt about moving so far away. No matter how easy it is nowadays to stay in touch with Facetime, Skype and all the other readily available video-calling apps and technology, she's on the other side of the world and I miss her dearly.

We talk about getting older sometimes as I've got a milestone birthday coming up myself. Mum believes it is important to leave us a decent inheritance when she's gone. I have told her several times that I don't care about that one bit; her happiness and well-being is all that matters.

I'd like her to spend her money on all the things she wants to do while she still can. If she squanders every euro she has on fun things and great experiences, it will only make me smile.

I'm sure my sister feels the same way. We're far from perfect but we are strong, caring and fiercely independent women. We make a living without relying on others, have deep respect for older people and, even if times are tough, we wouldn't consider ripping anyone off.

I can't speak for others, but I would like to ask those who have noticed signs of disrespectful attitudes towards older people to do something about it. Even if you don't want to get involved personally, please don't turn a blind eye. Age Concern or the police are only a phone call away. Everyone, no matter what age, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

Martine Rolls is a Tauranga writer and digital strategist - www.sweetorange.co.nz

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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