World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is an annual initiative that was first launched on June 15, 2006. The United Nations General Assembly designated that date as the day which the entire world voice its opposition to any form of abuse of the older generation.
Elder abuse is a global problem and it's no different in New Zealand. As with other examples of family violence, it's difficult to know exactly how common it is, because the sad reality is most goes unreported.
A large part of society wouldn't even consider elder abuse part of the family violence problem, but it definitely is. Along with most of the world, New Zealand acknowledges WEAAD on June 15 and it is symbolised by a purple ribbon.
It is estimated that up to 32,000 older people may be experiencing some form of elder abuse each year, but the overwhelming majority does not get reported to the appropriate agencies. One in 10 people aged 65-plus will experience some sort of elder abuse in their lifetime.
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There are some noticeable differences with elder abuse compared with other forms of family violence. Physical abuse is not as common, but we see high levels of psychological and financial abuse. Psychological abuse (79 per cent of reported cases) includes threats, humiliation and intimidation. This can create stress and shame which can lead to a sense of powerlessness for the older person. Financial abuse (54 per cent of reported cases) ranges from illegal use of money or assets to coercion, or being pressured into changing wills or signing documents.
Although there are differences in elder abuse, there are definitely common trends we see in all types of family violence. More often than not the abuser is someone close to the victim. It is someone trusted. Often it is a family member, a friend or even a neighbour. It is particularly heartbreaking that 81 per cent of alleged abusers are family members. Abusers are often someone they depend on for support or care.
What can you do to help? At the very least we want the community to accept and acknowledge that elder abuse IS a form of family violence and IS a problem in Aotearoa. Check on your older family members, friends or neighbours and ask them if they're okay. If you suspect an older person is not being treated well or want to report abuse, please call either the Elder Abuse Helpline 0800 32 668 65 (EA NOT OK) or freephone Age Concern 0800 243 625 or (06) 759 9196 for Age Concern Taranaki.