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Many older people view their General Practitioner as someone they can trust. As a result, they may open up to their GP or another doctor in a way that they will not with other people. As a doctor or medical professional, you can play a key role in identifying elder abuse and ensuring an older patient receives the help they need.

Some signs to look out for include:

  • missing appointments since the arrival of a new carer
  • being fearful to speak about their needs in the company of a carer or family member
  • becoming more withdrawn or showing signs of depression or anxiety
  • an increase in the number of pressure sores, pressure sores not healing or unexplained bruising
  • signs of chemical abuse, that is over or under use of required medication. This may present as
    • increasing poor health as treatment is being withheld
    • more frequent admissions to hospital or presentation at emergency departments
    • needing prescriptions more or less regularly than they would if they were taking the prescribed dosage.

Patients may also open up to the doctor about issues which are not health-related. They may talk about financial pressures or risky financial ventures such as joint accounts, transferring land titles, or building a granny flat on someone else’s property.

It may become clear during their appointment that the patient appears to be left out of decisions making about their life, expressing concerns about the decisions made on their behalf.

If a patient opens up to you about the abuse they are experiencing, you can encourage them to call the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192, or call them directly as Dr Gordon did.

The following story is drawn from the experiences of callers to the Elder Abuse Helpline. All names have been changed.

Dr Gordon’s story

Dr Gordon called the helpline concerned for Kelvin, an 80 year old patient who presented at the clinic complaining of dizziness, sleeplessness and confusion. Kelvin had been seeing Dr Gordon for the past 5 years for general health checks and was always active and positive. Kelvin had lost his wife 12 months ago and was experiencing signs of grief and loss. Kelvin lived alone in his own home and has a good support network through his local Men’s Shed and extended family.

During his last visit Kelvin disclosed that his granddaughter, Laura, had taken him to stay at her place and was putting pressure on him to sell his home, update his will and Enduring Power of Attorney to make herself the decision-maker. Kelvin was worried that he was not allowed to go to the Men’s Shed and that his calls were supervised. Although Kelvin had always attended appointments alone, Laura had been attending appointments more frequently in the last 2 months and had answered most of the questions asked of Kelvin. 

Dr Gordon called the Elder Abuse Helpline to discuss his suspicions and discussed the potential to make another appointment for Kelvin, but this time informing the granddaughter that he needed to speak to Kelvin alone. The GP encouraged Kelvin to call the helpline while he was with him in the office to discuss his options. The helpline operator discussed a strategy to engage Kelvin including several visits to the clinic to enable him to speak with a number of services, without raising suspicion. This included speaking with the Seniors Legal and Support Service to find out his legal options and what his rights were, and access to grief and bereavement counsellor.

Kelvin realised that he was not dependent on his granddaughter and could make other choices about how he wanted to live his life. In the end Kelvin decided that he was able to continue living in his own home with the help of in-home care services. Laura continued to harass Kelvin and, after persevering through her verbal abuse and emotionally controlling behaviour for many months, Kelvin finally decided to seek a Domestic Violence Order against her to stop the abuse.

Find out more about how you can help someone experiencing elder abuse.

Contacts

Elder Abuse Helpline

9am–5pm, Monday to Friday

1300 651 192 (Queensland only)

(07) 3867 2525 (rest of Australia)

This Queensland Government funded helpline is run by UnitingCare Community.

Free anonymous and confidential advice for anyone experiencing elder abuse or who suspects someone they know may be experiencing elder abuse.

In an emergency call the police on triple zero (000).

Other support services

Theres no excuse for elder abuse video

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