Shining a light on elder abuse

Seniors Minister Maggie Barry is calling for a light to be shone on elder abuse over concerns the 2,000 documented cases each year represent only a small part of thousands more that go unreported.

Minister and SuperSeniors champions

Photo: Seniors Minister Maggie Barry, Dame Malvina Major, Precious McKenzie and Dame Kate Harcourt

At an event to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Seniors Minister Maggie Barry said it was time to bring the issue out of the shadows.

“It still is the secret a lot of people don’t talk about and until we do shed light on this dark space, we don’t really know the extent of the problem,” Ms Barry says.

“We know there are many others that occur. Based on our population, if you look at international trends, there would be more than 17,000 cases a year.”

“We must speak up about elder abuse and neglect.

We must raise awareness of what it might involve and encourage individuals and communities to speak up if they, or someone they know, needs help.”

The Minister was joined by three Super Seniors Champions; high-profile advocates for older people.

Champion weightlifter Precious McKenzie recommended keeping fit to remain sharp, Dame Malvina Major said she was “retiring” next week but outlined a busy schedule of work commitments for the rest of the year while actor Dame Kate Harcourt spoke of the importance of close family connections.

Whanau links

Dame Kate Harcourt at podium

"Ageing is not for sissies!" exclaimed Dame Kate.

"It’s hard work- though in my case it’s made a great deal easier because I live in a whanau system downstairs from my daughter and her family.

In fact I have a flatmate, my grand-daughter Thomasin who lives in what used to be my spare room.

"I get very little peace as I operate a kind of taxi service — as early as 7.3O in the morning sometimes — and there is a high demand for chocolate birthday cakes with raspberry jam in it, from the old Edmonds cookbook.  

"But the meals my son-in-law persuades me to share every now and then make up for it all."

The actor advised seniors to set up a power of attorney.

“See that a power of attorney is appointed- someone responsible outside the family circle who will make sure that your relation’s wishes are considered and that there are no predatory members of the family hovering.

“Treat your relation as you would hope to be treated yourself — in other words — do as you would be done by because ageing is truly a shared experience.”

Peter and Miranda Harcourt.

Photo: Peter and Miranda Harcourt listen to Dame Kate

Attitudes Towards Ageing

The Minister launched a new survey, 'Attitudes Towards Ageing' which revealed while eight out of ten people have respect for seniors, many older people reported feeling lonely and isolated.

“Social isolation and loneliness among our seniors is particularly concerning as it increases vulnerability to elder abuse and neglect,” Ms Barry says.

Precious McKenzie at microphone

“I want people to be aware of the many forms and nuances elder abuse takes.

“Not just physical abuse but psychological – ‘Unless you do this, you won’t be seeing the grandchildren in a hurry’; financial pressure from others requiring, demanding, cajoling or downright cheating seniors out of money.”

Precious McKenzie says some seniors can be a target.

“You can’t defend yourself that’s why you’re vulnerable to these predators.

“The abused are the ones who have no defence and the criminal comes along. You really need help for those who are vulnerable."

The fitness advocate also believes in the strength of families to look out for each other.

“I’m very proud of those young ones who look after their mum, dad, granddad because some of them, not only will they not look after them, but they abuse and take advantage.”

Being connected to family and friends, and to a wider network in the community can reduce the risk of being socially isolated and the prospect of abuse.

Community Connects

Dame Malvina, who is Professor of Voice at Waikato University and described herself as a workaholic, has always been very connected to the arts, students and the wider community.

The opera star said she had pondered throughout her life what it meant to get old.

“When I was 17 I told myself I would retire at the age of 45.

“I had a career before I married, and I continued with my career between children, milking cows and becoming a widow at 46. I continued, and continued and still continue.”

Dame Malvina Major at microphone

Dame Malvina reflected on the ups and downs of life.

“I’m not the granny I always hoped I would be.

"I always wanted to have the family coming home for Christmas or birthdays, Sunday lunches – just like we used to have in my youth but no, I go to them when I can. I have a house but is it a home?”

The singer has a heavy teaching schedule over the rest of the year, mentoring younger generations aspiring to follow in her footsteps.

Those types of inter-generational links keep communities connected and reduce the prospect of elder abuse occurring.

The Minister said elder abuse was a shared responsibility.

“A trusting senior who is a little bit lonely is vulnerable to these people who would predate on them,” Ms Barry says.

“These people knock on the door, offer to paint the house for a small amount of money, encourage you to go to the bank with them – these are the kinds of scams and the level of attention to detail that some of these dark-hearted people do."

The Government directly funds 27 elder abuse and neglect prevention services and the Minister wants to do more to tackle one of the contributing factors by addressing social isolation.

“Last year we launched Community Connects as an umbrella group programme to bring together the large variety of seniors groups to work together towards building age-friendly communities,” Ms Barry says.

“Pilot projects are now under way in Kapiti, Hamilton and New Plymouth, and we’ll see more New Zealanders able to stay connected and lead fulfilling lives as they get older.

“It takes a village and a very aware community to ensure our vulnerable people are kept safe. We all need to be diligent and aware of what can go wrong.”