As we approach Elder Abuse Awareness Week, the Whanganui Chronicle continues to look at issues facing the elderly.
Age Concern Whanganui wants an increased focus on the vulnerable elderly as more instances of abuse come to its attention.
Senior social worker Sue Evans said reported cases of elder abuse had continued to rise in recent times and the Whanganui community needed to put "extra emphasis" on the issue.
"Just yesterday I took four phone calls about this," Evans said. "It doesn't stop, and some of these cases can be quite complex."
According to the NZ Crimes Act, a vulnerable adult means a person who is "unable, by reason of detention, age, sickness, mental impairment, or any other cause, to withdraw themselves from the care or charge of another person".
Evans said unless medical professionals and care workers visited people in their homes, cases of "severe self-neglect" would continue.
"I visited an older woman at her home, and she didn't answer the door," Evans said.
"It turned out that there had been a leak in her house for maybe 10 years, and the floor had completely rotted.
"She'd fallen through the floor itself and was calling out for help.
"Some of these situations really are horrific."
Age Concern manager Michelle Malcolm said visits to a GP could hide the fact that people might be struggling in their home lives.
"Someone might visit their doctor and say everything is okay, and because there doesn't seem to be any pressing concerns one would assume that there is nothing to worry about," Malcolm said.
"This is a generation that traditionally doesn't ask for help, and they're scared that if they do, their freedom and independence will be taken away.
"There needs to be a consolidated effort from everyone, from Age Concern to the DHB, through to health practitioners, to take better care of our elderly."
A man said he and a couple of friends cleaned his mother's house in Whanganui recently, something that took a week to finish.
"My sister and her partner had been visiting her every day, and they'd cleaned out all the food from the cupboards and the carpets were covered in rat faeces and urine," he said.
"When a caregiver came to visit her, she'd been lying on the floor for 24 hours.
"There was a leak in the bathroom that been there for six months, and there was no seat on the toilet."
His sister and her partner had also been taking money from his mother's bank account, he said, and when he stepped in to replace the carpets they had called the police.
"There were rubbish bags from the back door right through to the living room where she was sitting.
"I've changed the locks on the house, and I tried to contact my sister so my wife could have power of attorney.
"By the end of the day the phone had been disconnected, so now they'll be hearing from the courts."
He said the public needed to know about these events, and that often it was family members who were to blame for cases of self-neglect.
Evans said another issue Age Concern had encountered recently was "romance scamming".
"When you get an elderly lady who's lonely and vulnerable, they are desperate for company, and that's when scammers can strike," Evans said.
"These men usually say they need money to travel to New Zealand to visit these ladies, and, although perhaps the average person wouldn't fall for something like this, thousands of dollars can disappear."
Abuse between partners could "work both ways" as well, Evans said.
"An elderly gentleman I dealt with would always wear high-collared shirts, and one day I was driving him and it was sweltering hot.
"He eventually pulled his collar down and it turned out his wife had been strangling him.
"Our lives are defined by our relationships, especially when they've been going on for 40-plus years, and sometimes a partner is the only person left to look after someone."
Malcolm said an "overarching responsibility" for older people was needed in New Zealand.
"From my perspective, we have a commissioner for vulnerable children, and we need one for vulnerable adults as well.
"I know that Labour had promised one when they came to power, but that hasn't eventuated.
"We need to tell people out there about the things that go on. Please, report any issues that you have, and let's start a conversation."
Elder Abuse Awareness Week is from June 15-22.
To contact Age Concern Whanganui, call 06 345 1799.