Elder abuse to worsen

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 19/12/2012

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Neglected, financially stretched, and emotionally abused are words being used to describe a significant portion of Palmerston North's population of elderly people, which is set to double in the next 20 years.

The Palmerston North City Council's Older Persons' Profile shows the city's 9,000-plus people aged over 65 years are a diverse group likely to make up nearly 20 per cent of the population by 2031.

Age Concern Manawatu manager Sue Gould said elder abuse was top of her list of concerns. She said few stories were made public, because older people were often embarrassed and ashamed of the way their families treated them.

Abuse was usually not about physical violence, but was about money and emotional blackmail and neglect.

The report shows at least 18 per cent of the city's over-65s remain in paid employment. But Mrs Gould said it was worrying that some of those people carried on working, not because they wanted to, but because they had to.

"Often they are working to help their children out, which is verging on emotional and financial abuse.

"We are still in a generation where people want to leave something for their children when we die, but they are not prepared to wait for that.

"They want it now."

Policy analyst Julie Macdonald said between 270 and 900 older people in Palmerston North were statistically likely to be victims of abuse.

Ms Macdonald said another emerging problem for Palmerston North was the lack of appropriate housing, estimating that more than 11,000 one and two-bedroom dwellings would be needed by one-person households, many of whom would be older people living on their own by next year.

Ms Macdonald said it was likely the growing older population would become an increasingly politically influential lobby group, as older people were more likely to vote and participate in the democratic process than younger people.

City council community wellbeing committee chairman Lew Findlay said that shift could not come soon enough. "They will be a force to be reckoned with, but our councillors don't understand that.

"Older people are the neglected minority, in danger of becoming the neglected majority."

He has made three attempts to revive an older persons' forum, supported by the council, to give groups representing various interests a chance to meet and air concerns.

"Almost every other local authority has something where older people can relate with their council, but the majority of our councillors don't believe older people need it."

Grey Power Manawatu spokeswoman Renetta Dennis said the forum was important.

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"It was the only voice of older citizens that was available."

She said an issue near the top of Grey Power's list of concerns was the inadequacy of national superannuation, the sole income of 40 per cent of older people, to support a moderately comfortable lifestyle.

Another worry was the trend for rest homes to offer premium beds, with added extras for those who could afford to pay for them, and fewer numbers of standard beds available.

"The gap between those who can afford to pay a premium and those who cannot is likely to widen."

- Manawatu Standard

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