8 Aug 2017

Loneliness and elder abuse

From Nine To Noon, 11:30 am on 8 August 2017
Age Concern

Photo: Supplied

Social isolation and loneliness make elderly people susceptible to psychological abuse – sadly most often perpetrated by their own family members.

Louise Rees and Hanny Naus from Age Concern New Zealand discuss the problem.

Useful work has been done in the media to destigmatise depression, Rees says, and she would like to see the same treatment given to loneliness.

"Most of us will experience loneliness at some point in our life."

Loneliness is often experienced during times of transition - 15 to 24 year olds can experience it intensely, then it can hit hard again in the elder years.

"Your health may be changing, your mobility may be affected, you may be experiencing sensory losses, you may have lost a driver's license, you may very well have lost a partner and be bereaved. Neighbours and friends are ageing and may not be able to visit as much as they used to… so all sorts of things are happening at that age which can mean older people are again vulnerable to loneliness."

Loneliness can make people susceptible to manipulation and 'grooming' and manipulation.

What is first presented an offer of support can morph into a psychological abusive contract.

Pressure on older people from within the family can be subtle and indirect,  Naus says.

"[For example] Otherwise we won't bother to visit anymore, you won't see the grandchildren unless you can give me that… You're old, you're not using this big house anymore. Why don't you just sell it, and then we can buy a house and you can have a room in our house?

"Sometimes what we encounter is that adult children are expecting older people to provide them the inheritance younger generations believe is due to them."

In a lot of cases, nobody outside the family would know it's going on.

"As an older person, are you going to admit to other people that your family is actually extorting money out of you? … You're not going to be exposing your family, that's far too shameful. A lot of it is very hidden and if there's no external signs like bruising, nobody is going to know."

A couple of warning signs that an older people may be being used are patterns developing with their income, i.e. "If the day the benefit is due there's always someone there to pick them up and take them to the bank."

They may also make indirect comments such as 'I only see my family when they need money'.

If you're feeling trapped, overwhelmed or resentful something is there that needs to be addressed – have a conversation with someone.

Conversations between family members can be facilitated by Age Concern workers, Rees says.

"Older people have as much right as anybody to make choices in their lives."