In Australia, more and more elderly parents are experiencing abuse by family members for a variety of reasons. Rising house prices and financial difficulty are one reason why adult family members may pressure their elderly parents to guarantee loans or provide funding for a home deposit. To coerce their parents into signing contracts the adult children may deny them access to their grandchildren or threaten to move away. In some cases, families may move into the older person’s home and refuse to move out, where they live rent-free. Physical and emotional abuse may also be a part of the mistreatment suffered by the elderly person.

A recent report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, provided an overview of Elder Abuse in Australia including its characteristics, context, and prevention. Considered were the definitional issues, prevalence and incidence, risk and protective factors, and the dynamics surrounding disclosure and reporting.

The report then sets out evidence on the demographic and socio-economic features of the Australian community that are relevant to understanding social dynamics that may influence elder abuse, including intergenerational wealth transfer and the systemic structures that intersect with elder abuse. Lastly, the report considers legislative and service responses and Australian and overseas approaches to prevention.

Some of the key points that came out of this study were…

  • Although evidence about the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia is lacking it is likely that between 2% and 10% of older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year, and the prevalence of neglect is possibly higher.
  • The available evidence suggests that most elder abuse is intra-familial and intergenerational, with mothers most often being the subject of abuse by sons, although abuse by daughters is also common, and fathers are victims too.
  • Financial abuse appears to be the most common form of abuse experienced by elderly people, and this is the area where most empirical research is available. Psychological abuse appears slightly less common than financial abuse, and seems to frequently co-occur with financial abuse.
  • The problem of elder abuse is of increasing concern as in the coming decades unprecedented proportions of Australia’s populations will be older: in 2050, just over a fifth of the population is projected to be over 65 and those aged 85 and over are projected to represent about 5% of the population.
  • Our federal system of government means that responses to elder abuse are complicated as they are contained within multiple layers of legislative and policy frameworks across health, ageing and law at Commonwealth and state level.

View the full report →

When family relationships break down many family members are reluctant to go to court for fear of further relationship breakdown and the obvious financial and emotional cost. Mediation as a form of dispute resolution is highly successful for elder abuse issues and high conflict family disputes involving financial and contractual agreements or living arrangements.  The ability to resolve the issues outside of a courtroom in less time and with less financial pressure is important in helping the family to maintain their relationships as well. The elder generation need to know they are important and supported through this process.

Mediation is tailored to each family’s circumstances considering the health and wellbeing of the older person and could provide an opportunity for family members and significant others to make plans and have difficult conversations with an impartial third-party present. While the mediator will be sure to consider the interests, rights and safety of the elderly person in any decision making.

As elder abuse is becoming more of a problem in Australia, with such a large aging population, it is important that we are proactive in our approach, so that matters don’t escalate further. Consider mediation as a dispute resolution strategy for family matters.  It’s important to for us to look after the older generation respectfully, and find ways to work disputes through in ways that they wouldn’t be able to do on their own.

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