Launch of Elder Abuse and Neglect Video

  • Robyn McDonald
Senior Citizens


Thank you for coming along today for this most important occasion - the launching of Age Concern's Elder Abuse and Neglect Video.

Politicians such as myself often say on occasions such as this how pleased we are to be present. Sadly, that is not the case today. It's to our shame we need to hold functions such as this. At the same time we must also be grateful some dedicated people are doing something about it.

For elder abuse and neglect is a very real problem in our society.

As people approach retirement they look forward to a more relaxed, less pressurised lifestyle. There's going to be more time for the garden, for enjoying the company of children and grandchildren, for relaxing on the bowling green or the golf course, or just plain old pottering about.

They may also decide to contribute to the community in other ways, perhaps through organisations such as Age Concern.

Sadly that is not the full story and sadly it's why we need programmes such as the video we are launching today to deal with the very real problem of elder abuse and neglect.

In talking about this issue we should bear in mind the first of six key Government social policy points set down by the Prime Minister. This states that everyone has a responsibility to themselves, their families, their communities, other taxpayers and society.

Programmes such as those organised by Age Concern help to meet this social objective. They are an excellent prevention measure to deal with elder abuse and neglect. That's why I'm proud of my part in getting funding in last year's Budget to help continue Age Concern's important work in this area.

Elder abuse and neglect has received recognition only in relatively recent years, both here and overseas. It was in the category of if we ignore it, it will go away. It certainly has not had the profile of other forms of abuse even though it can be just as devastating in its impact on older people.

Put bluntly, elder abuse is a form of family violence and we need to lift community awareness of it. It needs to be talked about. And talking about it will lead to something being done about it. This video will help that process.

Elder abuse falls into four main categories: physical, psychological, sexual and financial.

Elder neglect covers active or intentional neglect and passive neglect when there is a refusal or failure by a carer because of inadequate knowledge or infirmity, to provide basic necessities.

Both types of neglect can lead to harmful physical, psychological, material and social effects. They cause pain, both physical and mental. We have to confront the fact that our senior citizens may be suffering when they should be living out their retirement in comfort and security.

If people doubt that we have a real problem let me open their eyes with some scary statistics. It is considered that no fewer than 8,700 older New Zealanders may be suffering some form of abuse and neglect.

Data from seven Age Concern programmes show that over a nine month period in 1997 there were:

41 cases of abuse per month; an estimated 495 cases in a year (371 confirmed cases in 9 months)

71% of clients over 65 years were women;

39% of cases involved psychological abuse;

30% of cases involved financial abuse;

41% of cases there had been abuse lasting for more than one year;

43% of abusers were the son or daughter of the abused person with a further 5% sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.
That's disturbing and it makes it all the more urgent that we raise public awareness. People have to know that elder abuse and neglect is out their in their communities and that something must be done about it.

We must lift its profile to ensure that preventative action is taken and if abuse does occur it is promptly notified so its impact may be reduced.

Recognising that there is a problem will ensure that it is dealt with appropriately.

After that gloomy picture, let's not forget that there are also lots of positive things happening for our older citizens. Just one example: The United Nations International Year of Older Persons next year, 1999.

For this significant event we have set two prime objectives: preparing for an ageing population and promoting positive attitudes to ageing and older people.

These objectives are sufficiently broad to encompass a wide range of activities and initiatives yet provide a clear focus for the celebrations.

There are a number of significant areas of work in New Zealand, recently completed or currently being undertaken by the Government which impact on the 1999 celebrations:

the Prime Ministerial Task Force on Positive Ageing provided its final report in July last year.

legislation to prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of age takes effect from 1 February 1999.

the Office of the Retirement Commissioner and the provision of funding for a marketing campaign, intended to increase awareness and encourage New Zealanders to save for retirement, has successfully drawn public attention to the need to plan for older age
In addition, ongoing activities such as International Day of Older Persons on 1 October each year and Greats and Grands Month in schools help re-inforce the positive roles of older people in the community and will contribute to a greater awareness of and participation in the 1999 celebrations.

Let me conclude by returning to the prime reason we are here today.

The video we are launching "Elder Abuse and Neglect" will be a valuable tool for educating people - and not just older people - in the causes and prevention of this abuse and neglect.

It deals with situations of elder abuse and neglect that could happen in any family and provides information on how to minimise the risk of it happening.

The video incorporates comments from a wide range of people living in the community. This, I'm sure, will help promote discussion about the causes and prevention of elder abuse and neglect.

I congratulate all of those who took part in the making of this video. I'm sure it will be a powerful weapon in the fight against the abuse and neglect of our older people - a most worthwhile objective.

And through programmes such as these perhaps our older folk will be helped to have happier, more rewarding retirements, contributing the experiences of a lifetime to their communities.