40 per cent of aged care residents experience abuse or neglect

Four in 10 aged care residents have experienced some form of abuse or neglect, finds a new report that reveals the rate of elder abuse is close to the upper range found in overseas studies.

Described by experts as a hidden and neglected problem in Australia, an "experimental" survey of elder abuse among 391 residents living in 67 aged care facilities found 39.4 per cent said they experienced emotional and physical abuse and/or neglect.

Four in 10 aged care residents have experienced some form of abuse or neglect, finds a new report.Credit:Rob Homer

The survey, released on Monday, didn't include financial, sexual or social abuse.

Conducted from January to March 2020 and commissioned by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, residents were asked about any concerns they had, including those they hadn't reported, and then asked about their main concerns.

The most prevalent type of abuse was neglect, which was experienced by 30.8 per cent of people. This is above the combined or pooled prevalence rate of 11.6 per cent in international studies but below the highest rate of 81.8 per cent. This included people who said they didn't get enough help to eat, move, go to the toilet, or use continence aids.

The next most common was emotional abuse, 22.6 per cent in Australia compared with the combined prevalence rate overseas of 33.4 per cent and below the highest international rate of 79 per cent. This included people who said they were "treated like a child", "shouted at by staff" or forced to wear incontinence pads.

The smallest group was those who had experienced physical abuse at five per cent, compared to the rate overseas of 14 per cent. This includes people who "reported being restrained, not being allowed out of their bed/chair/room or outside, and/or being hurt or treated roughly by staff". This was below the pooled prevalence estimate identified from the international studies of 14.1 per cent, and close to the low end of 1.9 per cent.

The results are expected to increase pressure on the government to introduce a serious incident response scheme.

Around 5233 aged care assaults were reported to the federal government in 2018-19, a rate of 101 per week.

Leading aged care expert, Joseph Ibrahim, head of the health law and ageing research unit at Monash University, said in October that the federal government's lack of action on the reports "borders on criminal" and the true number was likely much higher.

The research coincides with a new public awareness campaign launched in October by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The report also says more information could be harnessed to better understand the prevalence and nature of elder abuse. This includes issues and complaints data held by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, and data collected by National Aged Care Mandatory Quality Indicator Program including indicators relating to restraint.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) Elder Abuse Prevalence Study is researching its incidence among people aged 65 and over who live in the community.

AIFS estimates 2 to 14 per cent of older people in high- or middle-income countries are victims of abuse or neglect every year.

"Prevalence rates are likely to be much higher in institutional care settings than in community settings," found a 2019 federal government report.

An earlier discussion paper by AIFS said the "available evidence" suggests most elder abuse in Australia was intra-familial and intergenerational, with mothers most often being the subject of abuse by sons. Abuse by daughters was also common, and fathers were victims too. It said financial abuse appears to be the most common form of abuse experienced by elderly people.

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