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  • Julie Cheney RN

Elder abuse - can you believe it?

Current estimates in Queeensland are that around 5% of people over 65 are affected by elder abuse. It's serious enough that it is now recognised by World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15).

The most common form of abuse is financial. Then social abuse is next, This is basically about isolating people from outside contact and people.

Regarding financial abuse, it's common enough that bank staff regularly have situations where they are concerned, and have requested solutions. As a result there is a group of services and organisations currently lobbying to have a National register of EPOA's. This would help the bank staff who are concerned when someone other than the older person comes into the bank or uses their access to take significant amounts from an account.

For older people there are legal options to protect them, but these must be put in place early enough that there is no question about being coerced or not having sound mind when signing. This is the Enduring Power of Attorney (Qld). It provides the right of another person to act on behalf of the older person if they cannot act for themselves. The documents are available at Post Offices and can be downloaded from the Office of the Public Guardian:

They can be set up for financial matters, for personal matters (including health care), or for both. You can appoint one or more people to hold your EPOA, as single decision makers or joint decision makers. If you have concerns to ensure these people can only act on your behalf when you lose decision making capacity, you can add such a statement to your document. It tends to be more commonly used when capacity is lost anyway, but where there might be unscrupulous behaviour, this can add an additional safety measure.

For the EPOA to be invoked, the holder must demonstrate their rights via certified copies of the documents and a letter from a doctor specifying the person's loss of decision making capacity. Banks require such proof to enable access to accounts on a person's behalf, or for any transactions on their assets.

However, there are many people who give over their authority to a friend or family member directly at the bank or by way of their internet banking password. In this case the chance of theft being identified is far lower, often not until the loss becomes significant. It's sad to think a loved one might consider it perfectly reasonable to take another person's money or assets because they feel some sort of entitlement to it. Often the reasoning is that it will be coming to them eventually anyway! However, when the person is alive, no matter what their capacity, they have rights like every other citizen to expect their savings will be used by them and for them according to their wishes.

If you are a carer of someone who has given their authority to act in banking or other purchases, it is also in your interests to carefully track whatever financial transactions occur. This will help to protect you if accusations of inappropriate conduct were to surface. This is fairly common between family members who are not closely in contact with each other and the older person. It also helps when the older person might be starting to become forgetful and not remember they have asked you to put money into something or take it out, or to pay for something.

Whilst we can't stamp out all inappropriate behaviour, we can at least be aware that it happens, and put some risk management in place. We can also remind everyone that older people are people, adults, and have the same rights as all of us. They deserve respect, and they deserve to be treated as you would expect any other adult to be treated. It's the law, and it's morally and ethically right.

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