Elder Abuse – Who Is Looking After Older Australians?
When you sit down for a cup of tea with your folks and notice how fragile they can be, most of us are sympathetic. We hang up their washing, drive them to the groceries stores, take them to medical appointments, or place them in care homes to receive supportive assistance and nursing.
Recently, there are an increasing number of reports of abuse of elderly people in public, their home and in care. According to Advocare, in Western Australia 1 in 20 older people will experience some form of abuse. As Australia’s population continues to age, Lynn & Brown Lawyers have prepared some points for you and your carers to consider about aged care.
WHAT IS “ELDER ABUSE”?
The term “Elder Abuse” is widely used and can include any form of abuse inflicted on an older person. Generally the perpetrator is someone who that older person depends on or trusts.
The abuse extends beyond physical assault and can include financial, psychological and social abuse forms. Financial abuse includes the misappropriation of funds, the coercion to change important documents (such as your Will) and restricting the elderly person’s management of their own money.
Psychological abuse includes intimidation, belittling and harassment. It is often coupled with social abuse which sees the elderly person restricted from external support, resulting in their isolation and further dependence on the perpetrator.
Negligence occurs in the most severe instances. Negligence includes but is not limited to: the misuse of medication, failing to provide adequate nutrition (often leading to poor health or malnutrition) and failing to provide supports and aids (such as walking frames).
Abuse of any nature is usually fuelled by the imbalance of power between a carer and the elderly person. Due to their compromised position, the elderly person may be incapable of flagging their concerns or be fearful of being further abused or completely abandoned as a result.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO REDUCE THE CHANCES OF ABUSE
- PLAN YOUR FUTURE AND COMMUNICATE YOUR WISHES CLEARLY.You plan your wedding, your holidays and many other important events so why not plan for your retirement? After working hard, you deserve to relax and be treated well. To ensure your old age is everything you require, consider who will help you and then communicate where you would like to live, how you would like to be cared for and what to do in worst case scenarios. Make sure you write these wishes down. You may want to consider making an advanced health directive.This is important because as you age, the Court (or your relatives and friends) may question your capacity to make decisions. This is particularly the case where you have been diagnosed with a mind altering condition such as Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Therefore, having your instructions written down and signed by you in the presence of witnesses can reduce the stress and questions placed on your decision maker.
- GET AN ENDURING POWER OF ATTORNEY AND AN ENDURING POWER OF GUARDIANSHIP.Written documents as to your wishes and who you would like to manage your affairs are very important. A enduring power of attorney allows a person or people nominated by you to assist you with your financial affairs. An enduring power of guardianship lets you nominate a person (or people) to make decisions regarding your health and care.By appointing an attorney and a guardian in people you trust, can bring peace of mind to your care. However, be careful to appoint a person (or people) you believe can manage your estate and understand your wishes. These documents are very powerful and can be used inappropriately if they fall into the wrong hands.Have you got concerns about your attorney, or someone appointed to a close friend or family member? Speak to one of our experienced estate solicitors who could assist in removing them.
- MAINTAIN A SOCIAL NETWORK AND SPEAK OUT WHERE POSSIBLE.Keep in touch with friends and family to prevent psychological and social abuse. If you have concerns, voice them with trusted people. Attorneys who misuse their power, for example misappropriating funds or causing loss can be sentenced to a maximum of five years in jail and fined up to $90,000.00. If you are experiencing physical abuse speak to law enforcement as they have dedicated resources to assist elderly people who feel they are being mistreated. Physical abuse is a crime and will be treated seriously in all events.
To safeguard your future it is important to contemplate your wishes and think of people who you trust will assist you in your old age. Once this planning has been completed, speak to one of our lawyers to get your Will, Enduring Power of Attorney and Guardianship executed before you lose capacity. Not only will this protect your interests and wishes, it will also prevent your loved ones from the head ache of seeking these orders through the State Administrative Tribunal. If you are unsure where to start, do not stress! Sit down with one of our lawyers for a full explanation of what can be done and what you need to consider.
About the author:
Haley Graydon is a law clerk at Lynn & Brown. Haley is currently in her final year of study at UWA. The areas of law that Haley has a keen interest in is family law and estates.