Elder abuse helpline makes a difference in its first year

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An elder abuse response service is making a small but significant difference in Central Otago.

Although there have only been about six calls fielded by Alexandra based Age Concern field worker Marie Roxburgh since the helpline’s launch almost a year ago, those people have been able to get the help they needed.

“One family member I know was so grateful to have that number to ring because they were worried about a neighbour,” she said.

“We have since taken that case on and done a lot of work so it’s been great.”

The elder abuse response service, launched by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in July last year, features a national helpline.

Callers are triaged and then directed to their regional provider.

In its first five months, the service received 2119 calls and referrals nationwide.

From those calls, the service now has 1311 clients on its books.

MSD office for seniors spokesman Steve Janes said the role of the service varied, depending on the clients’ needs.

“Initially, providers will identify if abuse is happening, assess the risk and bring in the police if necessary. More commonly, case workers will make a plan with the client, outlining the actions they need to take.”

The client will then be referred to other agencies and services for legal advice and support.

Mr Janes said although national figures have been released, it was not yet known how many of those callers were from Otago.

However, Mrs Roxburgh could confirm she had received about six calls.

Other people requiring assistance have also visited the Age Concern office.

“A lot of them have just been misunderstandings, but a lot of them have taken a lot of work,” Mrs Roxburgh said.

Most of the concerns raised through the helpline related to financial abuse, she said.

“People don’t always understand the rights of an older adult, and their rights to have their own money and do with it what they like.”

Mr Janes said the significance of elder abuse on an older person, their quality of life and that of their family, can be devastating.

“At its worst it can result in a long-lasting decline in health and wellbeing, social isolation, loss of independence resulting in the need for residential care, and premature death.

“Older people who have experienced financial or material abuse can face significant and ongoing material hardship.”

Mr Janes encourages people dealing with abuse to “reach out” to the elder abuse response service to get the help they need.

Elder Abuse Response Services helpline: 0800 32 668 65 (0800 EA NOT OK).