Australian GPs are for the first time being put on high alert to look for signs of elder abuse and enact safety plans for older patients they suspect are in danger. Source: The Age.
By Melissa Cunningham, The Age
GPs are also being encouraged to report any suspicions of abuse to police or guardianship authorities, under sweeping new clinical guidelines rolled out by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
About one in six Australians aged 60 and older are victim to elder abuse spanning from neglect to financial, physical, sexual or psychological abuse each year. The number of victims is expected to grow exponentially as Australia’s ageing population continues to soar.
The college, which represents thousands of GPs across Australia, has released its first aged care clinical recommendations for doctors which provide guidance on dealing with elder abuse as well as caring for marginalised elderly patients.
College president Harry Nespolon said elder abuse was complex and insidious because abusers often had a relationship of trust with the victim.
“It is a lot more common than most people think and most of the time the elderly patients are being abused by the ones they are also loved by: their children, partners or family members,” Dr Nespolon said. “It’s something GPs would come across at least once a month, if not more frequently.”
The new guidelines follow the October release of the Aged Care Royal Commission’s interim report, which found the country’s system “diminished Australia as a nation,” after the inquiry laid bare harrowing personal stories of neglect and inhumane treatment of elderly people.
Signs of elder abuse include unexplained injuries such as bruising, bed sores, malnourishment, decline in personal hygiene, rocking or huddling up, unusual behaviour, confusion not associated with illness and lack of money to buy essentials including medication.
Lynda Saltarelli, from community group Aged Care Crisis, lauded the guidelines and hoped other professions interacting with elderly people would follow suit.
“Elder abuse really requires a cooperative approach from the whole of the community rather than a top-down approach from governments,” she said.