12:50pm Friday 13 December 2019

It’s all in the family

Study looks at preventing financial abuse of older people It’s not often discussed but the truth is the most commonly reported abuse of older people in Australia is financial. And more often than not it is adult children and other close relatives who are responsible.

But scratch beneath the surface and managing the finances as people age can become complicated and fraught.

Research being undertaken by three researchers at UniSA in conjunction with a colleague at Flinders University and five community organisations in South Australia has revealed that many older Australians from all walks of life are at risk of financial abuse – both intentional and unintentional.

Researcher, Associate Professor Dale Bagshaw from UniSA’s School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy says situations are often very complicated and become even moreso if there are issues around mental competency or if an older person is living in a situation where they are dependent on family members for day to day care.

“To date we have assessed what service providers, older people and their relatives have to say about their experiences of financial exploitation of older people by their family members and we are now developing and evaluating approaches that allow older people and their families to develop plans to prevent it from happening,” Prof Bagshaw says.

At a public seminar today at 5.30 pm at UniSA’s Hawke Building, City West campus, Professor Bagshaw will present findings from extensive national surveys of service providers, older people and their relatives about the nature and effects of financial abuse of older people.  

The researchers are now examining styles of family mediation that may work to prevent the abuse and ensure the continuity of important family relationships.

“Older people from all walks of life are vulnerable to financial abuse and or exploitation and that can take many forms, from things as blatant as threats to more ‘under the radar’ abuse such as not repaying loans or the withdrawal of visits or support until money is signed over,” she says.

“The most common reason given for the abuse occurring is that many adult children believe they are entitled to their older parents’ money and assets”.

“The spectrum of abuse is very broad. Differing values and perspectives about money and relationships and responsibilities can also complicate matters leading to confusion, disagreement and ultimately family conflicts that are stressful for older people.

Prof Bagshaw says plans made early in the ageing process can prevent this from happening.

She says family mediation can be beneficial where an older person wishes to involve family members in decisions or plans about their finances and assets, or when family members believe that an older person is vulnerable to, or is experiencing, financial exploitation or abuse from a family member.

“The earlier that older people and their family members come together to discuss issues of concern, the better the chance that preventive plans can be made, conflicts can be  managed constructively and family relationships can be preserved or enhanced,” she says.

Funded by the Australian Research Council the continuing research project is being undertaken in collaboration with Relationships Australia SA, Office of the Public Advocate, Guardianship Board, Alzheimer’s Australia SA, Department for Families and Communities (Disability Ageing and Carers Branch) with support from the Aged Rights Advocacy Service.

Participants are needed to further the research.

Any person over 65 and/or members of their family with concerns about actual or potential financial abuse or exploitation can take part. They will be asked to have an initial meeting with a mediator to determine if mediation is appropriate in responding to their needs.

If appropriate they will be invited to voluntarily participate in one or more mediation sessions with members of their family, free of charge. The mediator acts as an impartial third party who manages the way that participants communicate with each other, ensures that people are treated with respect and that each person’s voice is heard in a safe environment.

Afterwards participants will be asked to complete a brief evaluation of the sessions. The research has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee at UniSA.

All information collected will be confidential and will be used to develop a range of ways to protect the best interests, rights and safety of older people, as well as evaluate ways to ensure that vulnerable older people have a voice (directly or indirectly) in the mediation process.

Anyone wanting to take part in the study can telephone The Office of the Public Advocate (8342 8200 or country callers 1800 066 969) or Relationships Australia (8223 4566 or country callers 1800 182 325) or Braes Mediation Solutions, Millicent (0417 821 830). Interested members of the public are invited to attend the seminar this evening.

Media contact

  • Michèle Nardelli office (08) 8302 0966 mobile 0418 823 673 email michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

Contact for interview

  • Associate Professor Dale Bagshaw can be contacted on her mobile 0408 805 641 or by email dale.bagshaw@unisa.edu.au.

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