Researchers are working with a team of 50 social workers across south east Queensland to create a uniform, national approach to identifying abuse in elderly people who present to hospitals.

Latest national figures say up to 14 per cent of Australians over the age of 55 experience some form of physical, financial or emotional abuse at the hands of their carers or family members.

Project leader and veteran social worker Professor Jill Wilson OA said despite the growing need, there was no national framework for dealing with the various forms of abuse.

“Our research project will be focussed on understanding why someone commits elder abuse and how social workers can better intervene to break the cycle,” Professor Wilson said.

“Apart from the issues of human rights and protection, increasing abuse rates worry the government because abused older people often lose their asset base and so they cannot pay for care.

“Everybody in society should have an interest in protecting older people.

“The government, economies, families and older people all have an interest in not seeing assets being ‘wasted’.

“Abuse severely reduces the financial, emotional and physical capacity of older people, and the responsibility of meeting their care needs can get passed onto the state.”

Professor Wilson said social workers and nurses who worked in hospitals were on the frontline in responding to elder abuse.

“Once a social worker becomes involved, the path forward is more difficult as they try and negotiate the complexities of getting the older person back into their home or aged care facility,” she said.

“Typical interventions could be mediating with family members, putting someone in the home as a carer to ‘stay in’ and look for signs of abuse or getting the police involved in serious cases of physical abuse.

“But there really is no tried and tested rulebook for dealing with elder abuse in the community and that’s what we will be focussing on during this research project.”

Professor Wilson said the research would also look at the issue of ‘family money’ and what constitutes financial abuse across different cultures.

The research grant is one of 47 UQ projects awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Project for 2021.

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