"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."

Judging by this famous quotation, New Zealand still has a way to go to reach greatness.

There are many things we do well, our "number 8 wire" reputation wasn't gained for nothing. We're innovative, smart and hard working.

But one thing we're still sadly lagging behind in is looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our society - our elders.


Our elders deserve our love, respect and care - yet last year, Age Concern received more than 2200 referrals for elder abuse.

That's a shocking number by itself, but when you stop and consider how many other cases likely went unreported, the mind boggles.

In the situations Age Concern has been involved in, more than 50 per cent of the alleged abusers were children or grandchildren. Three-quarters were relatives of some kind.

It's horrific.

I can't imagine what kind of people would hurt their family members in this way, let alone the ones that need our help.

Age Concern reported that more than 70 per cent of elder abuse cases involved psychological abuse and more than 50 per cent involved financial abuse.

Psychological abuse includes ridicule or threats, harassment or humiliation, preventing choice or decision making, or withholding affection. Financial abuse can be unauthorised taking of money or possessions, misuse of power of attorney, failure to repay loans, using a home and/or utilities without contributing to cost, and scamming an elderly person by forging a relationship with them for the purpose of exploitation.

That's a heady list, without even getting into the other less common forms of abuse like physical, sexual or neglect.


Age Concern is currently running its elder abuse awareness campaign, which aims to highlight the forms of abuse our elderly population commonly encounters, how to recognise the forms of abuse, and educate others on how it can be prevented.

Much of its advice is easy to carry out - show our older people the respect, love and support they deserve, check up on them regularly, stick up for them, challenge ageist attitudes.

Stoic elders are unlikely to want to dob in their loved ones, so it's up to the rest of us to keep an eye out.

Small interventions can make a huge difference.