Michelle Malcolm, manager of Age Concern in Whanganui, says elder abuse is a problem we need to address immediately. This week is Elder Abuse Awareness Week.
"I'm disappointed we have to have a whole week in which we have to be aware of elder abuse. It should be something at the top of our minds, as it is with child abuse.
"A few statistics: 75 per cent of people who are abused are abused by a family member.
When talk about abuse, we are talking about physical, financial, psychological, emotional and self-neglect. You would be surprised; in Whanganui in the last month we have had nine referrals for elder abuse."
She says two of those were self-referrals in which the subject realised they needed help.
Michelle was talking at a monthly session of Tea and Topics, a Kat Schroyens initiative which meets at the Gonville Library, where guest speakers provoke discussion on a variety of subjects. This one was timely.
Age Concern is a not-for-profit organisation. Seven staff cover a range of activities exclusive to Age Concern, so social workers are also engaged in other ways to assist the elderly.
Michelle says Age Concern also gets elder abuse referrals from the police and ambulance staff.
"Sometimes when you drive past you will see police cars, you will see the ambulance: don't panic. People are just calling in to talk to us about concerns they have.
"We have referrals from the hospital, from GPs, from nurse practitioners, from neighbours, family members, and people will come in and talk to us about what's happening for them at home."
Michelle says a number of those referrals are around financial abuse, where a family member thinks they're entitled to have a parent's money now.
That can be indiscriminate use of the parent's Eftpos card to a case in which a son was taking half of his father's pension every fortnight. His father didn't know.
"We report financial abuse to the police."
Michelle says they're seeing an increase in self-neglect. She struggles with the terminology, because it's not self inflicted.
"Think about when you are working and the goal is to be mortgage free by the time you retire, but no-one tells you at 65, to 85, to 95, how you are going to replace your roof if you're living on a pension."
She says they're seeing maintenance issues left unresolved until they become a huge job.
She told of an example in Whanganui where a woman's house had become so decrepid, with a hole in the bathroom floor barring access to her amenities.
It was caused by a leak she could not afford to fix. The rest of the house was severely affected with rotting floors and black mould.
"For her it was an embarrassment to ask for help. How could she be, at her age, unable to look after herself?"
She was worried people would think she was incompetent and unable to live on her own. Fortunately, when her family was notified, they took her to live with them.
Michelle says some people are too frightened to ask for help in case they're told they can't live at home anymore.
"With our elder abuse service we have a dedicated social worker who works full-time — all of her hours are solely around elder abuse. She has a pretty hard role. Her job is around supporting people in a situation that is not ok.
"Last year we had 147 cases of elder abuse in Whanganui." Michelle believes there are plenty more unreported cases.
Age Concern Whanganui is at 164 St Hill Street, phone (06) 345 1799 or email firstname.lastname@example.org