ANZASW Acknowledges World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2020


ANZASW would today (15/06/20) like to acknowledge World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. With global longevity continuing to increase there is a growing elder population. The United Nations predicts that between 2019 and 2030 the global population of over 60s will grow by 38% from 1 billion to 1.4 billion. Unfortunately with this population growth the rates of elderly abuse and neglect are also increasing.

The United Nations estimate that globally between 1 to 10 percent of people over 60 experience some form of maltreatment. In Aotearoa, a study carried out in 2014 estimated that one in ten people aged 65 and over will experience some form of elder abuse.

Today we hear from Hanny Naus, ANZASW Life Member, registered social worker and  Professional Educator in Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention with Age Concern New Zealand.

Elder abuse is an issue that occurs in both developing and developed nations and takes many forms including; physical, psychological, emotional, sexual and financial as well as neglect. More often than not, those who experience abuse will experience more than one form of abuse. ANZASW deems it totally unacceptable and intolerable for senior citizens in our society to be treated in these ways.

Social workers in elder abuse and neglect mostly work in community agencies like Age Concern and iwi social services. Their focus is to work with older people, their whānau and the wider networks to stop the abuse and reduce the harmful impact that abuse and neglect has.

Social work in the elder abuse and neglect field incorporates working across generations, while holding the human rights of the older person at the centre.  It requires social workers to incorporate and consider multiple (and often conflicting) views from all those involved, yet still advocate for the priorities of the older person.

Work in this field often requires social workers to navigate complex relationships between the abused and the abuser as the abuser is often someone close to the victim. It is reported that in New Zealand 76% of abusers are family members of the elderly person. Hanny highlights that the older client sometimes wants to remain close to the abuser when the abuser is also a loved one of the client.

Working in this space means social workers must utilise their skills, working with individuals, and their own social networks, but also with other professionals and agencies. Both encouraging self-advocacy and advocating for older clients’ specific issues are necessary aspects of social work with elder abuse and neglect.

Hanny highlights that another vital aspect of the profession is the role of challenging injustice. Whether this is within family dynamics, with other professionals or agencies or within the socio-political sphere. She highlights that ageism often lies at the heart of how elder abuse and neglect evolves and occurs when older people’s choices are subsumed by the priorities of others. It is important therefore that social workers challenge ageist world views and days such as today provide one vehicle for this.

Further impacting on this is that elder abuse is often hidden, hard to identify and those who experience it often are afraid to speak about it. Elderly abuse is therefore hard to accurately estimate and study and is typically underreported. Studies across many countries, including New Zealand, suggest that less than 15% of instances of elder abuse are reported to agencies that can help. Such astonishingly low numbers reinforce the importance of raising awareness and spreading public understanding of elder abuse and neglect.

Now more than ever it important to be aware of the signs of elder abuse. Further impacting on elder abuse over recent months has been the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a country we were all asked to look out for older people in our neighbourhoods, as well as connect with relatives further afield. Hanny explains that while this provided heartening support for most older people in our society, for some it heightened their vulnerability to being abused. With the pandemic movement restrictions, some older people were misused to provide accommodation, financial and other support to others which enhanced their being manipulated and coerced. Psychological abuse undergirds most elder abuse situations, because the trust the older person has in the abuser is subtly being eroded even when overt physical threats are not obvious.

Age Concern’s theme for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2020 is ‘Elder Abuse Hits Close to Home’, because those who are abused are not safe in their own homes – yet that is exactly where Kiwis expect to feel safe. Here at ANZASW we support this theme and would like to recognise the incredible work of agencies such as Age Concern who work with our elderly to assist in keeping them safe and protecting their wellbeing.

For more information on the work of Age Concern and World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in Aotearoa, please check out the following link

One comment

  • Estelle Dyhrberg

    Interesting article and yes with elder persons becoming more part of the active population there needs to be some movement to highlight their abuse. Interestingly, one of the abuses perpetrated is one that is not that obvious,

    This involves workers themselves. While in NZ according to the law, you cannot be discriminated according to age, many workers are aware that once you hit a certain age you are not favorably considered for employment, this leaving many suddenly without a reason for being. This again usually hits the lower socio economic or less trained workers, No one considers that the many surgeons, academics and the like should be put out to pasture or go off and do society a favour and retire.