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How COVID-19 is impacting on seniors’ vulnerability

With seniors being warned of the increased risks of contracting COVID-19, many are exercising extra caution as we move through the various waves or phases of the pandemic and adjust to the various levels of restriction to social contact in place by the our national and state governments.

This can affect older people in numerous ways including:

  • increased social isolation;
  • poorer mental health;
  • reduced access to services and supports;
  • inability to visit one’s spouse, friends or relatives in hospital and aged care; and
  • vulnerability to various types of abuse, including elder abuse.

In a recent alert, Seniors Rights Victoria highlighted the potential increase of elder abuse in the community as a hidden impact of COVID-19. SRV stresses that in the current economic climate – with large numbers of job losses leading to people being unable to pay their rent or home loans – the trend to move and live with older parents or other relatives will be driven by financial necessity. Whilst these arrangements can work, SRV warns that they deal with many cases where such an arrangement results in elder abuse.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of, and severity of elder abuse may also be heightened due to:

  • increased time with a family member who is using violence;
  • increased pressure from family members to care for grandchildren;
  • social distancing of family and friends; and
  • support services impacted by restrictions and workforce issues.

For those working in the health and social service sectors, it is important to be aware of new perpetrator coercive and controlling behaviour /tactics, including exploiting COVID-19 pandemic measures, and using pandemic specific behaviour such as:

  • misinformation about available support and increasing fear of the emergency situation;
  • disengagement with therapeutic or mandated services, escalating problem behaviours;
  • increased threats to suicide or self-harm, and/or expressions of hopelessness;
  • threatening to cause the victim survivor to contract the COVID-19 virus;
  • control of communication devices and denial of acute medical care access.

What can service providers do?

  • Call 000 if the older person is at risk of serious harm or in a life-threatening situation.
  • Familiarise yourself with the signs of elder abuse
  • Try to stay connected with your clients – promote visits maintaining social distancing wherever possible, or consider alternative methods – such as phone or video calls or SMS, but consider that it may not always be possible for the older person to speak safely over the phone.
  • Have open conversations with older people about any concerns you have, as long as it is safe to do so and away from the perpetrator of violence
  • Reassure older people that support services are still available
  • Refer the older person to relevant services to reduce isolation and promote safety
  • Where there is a change in the way an older person is thinking or feeling, mental health professional support and assessment should be sought
  • Complete basic risk assessments and safety planning
  • Talk to your manager about any concerns you have – whether it be for your older client, or an older person your client has a relationship with and may be perpetrating violence against
  • Talk to the Elder Abuse Liaison Officer (see link for contact details under supports and services below) about any concerns you have or disclosures of abuse. You do not need client consent for this.

Supports and services

Specialist family violence services are open and available for support and advice for anyone experiencing family violence. For a comprehensive list of services, please visit our Support for Older People page.

Have you considered other supports specific to supporting an older person during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Older Persons Advocacy Network – advice and information for older people during the COVID-19 pandemic
1800 237 981
opan.com.au/covid/

Beyond Blue – Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service
1800 512 348
https://coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au/

Mornington Peninsula Shire Council
Caring for our Communitycommunity support centres and care packages

Victorian State Government – essential supply packages
Victorians in mandatory self-isolation running short on food and unable to have any dropped-off by friends are now eligible for a food and personal care package, offering a two weeks’ supply of non-perishable foods and some personal care items.
1800 675 398

My Aged Care – the Australian Government’s starting point in a person’s aged care journey
1800 200 422

Carer Gateway
1800 422 737
https://www.carergateway.gov.au/

The Lookout – information for workers supporting women’s safety in Victoria
https://www.thelookout.org.au/

Peninsula Health Mental Health Triage Service
1300 792 977

Professional Development

Now is a great time to learn more about elder abuse online.

For an introduction to elder abuse, consider this online training module developed by the Department of Health and Human Services:

Department of Health and Human Services Preventing Elder Abuse online learning module

To gain a more in depth understanding of how to respond to elder abuse, please consider undertaking the Level 1: Recognising and responding to suspected elder abuse training module delivered via zoom by the Bouverie Centre.