1.1 Preventing elder abuse in an ageing world is ‘everybody’s business’, announced the Toronto Declaration on the Global Prevention of Elder Abuse (2002). The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that the prevalence rate of elder abuse in high- or middle-income countries ranges from 2% to 14%. As Australia faces the ‘inescapable demographic destiny’ of an ageing population, the potential reach of elder abuse may grow. In this context, the Report and the 43 recommendations it contains are timely.
1.2 Australia’s population is ageing, as people live longer and have fewer children. Approximately 15% of the population was aged 65 or over in 2014–15, and this is expected to rise to 23% by 2055. A female child born in 1900 could expect to live to 59, but in 2017 can expect to live to 85. Australians are not only living longer, they are staying healthy for longer.
1.3 That Australians are living longer and healthier lives is great cause for celebration. In her book, In Praise of Ageing, Patricia Edgar writes that for many,
ageing is a liberating experience; we are consoled for any losses by a new sense of freedom and confidence—we don’t fear the future and we don’t worry so much about the opinions of others. But persistent assumptions about our incapacity undermine our well-being. The main mantra in the media is: ‘Now that they are living longer we can’t afford them; they are all going to get sick and be a drain on the rest of society.’ While this myth is gathering momentum there is another side to the story … [It] is about active, engaged older people who are enjoying their lives and continuing to contribute.
1.4 While older people should not be considered vulnerable merely because of their age, some factors commonly associated with age can make certain older people more vulnerable to abuse. Disability, for example, is more common among older people. More than 80% of people aged 85 years or over have some disability. While fewer than one in 20 Australians under 55 years have ‘severe or profound core activity limitations’, almost one-third of people aged 75 years or over have such limitations.
1.5 The prevalence of cognitive impairment also increases with age. From age 65, the prevalence of dementia doubles every 5 or 6 years. 30% of people aged over 85 have dementia, and over 1.1 million Australians are expected to have dementia by 2056. More generally, people aged 85 years and over need significantly more assistance and care than people aged 65–84.
1.6 Vulnerability does not only stem from intrinsic factors such as health, but also from social or structural factors, like isolation and community attitudes such as ageism. All of these factors contribute to elder abuse.
1.7 The Attorney-General of Australia, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, asked the ALRC to conduct this Inquiry into elder abuse in February 2016. The Inquiry forms part of a range of initiatives at the Commonwealth level towards addressing elder abuse and builds on a number of other reviews, including: the 2007 report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Older People and the Law; the 2015 report of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings; the 2016 research report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Elder Abuse: Understanding Issues, Frameworks and Responses; and the ALRC’s 2014 report, Equality, Capacity and Disability in Commonwealth Laws.
World Health Organization, The Toronto Declaration on the Global Prevention of Elder Abuse (2002).
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Parliament of Australia, Older People and the Law (2007) Foreword.
See ch 2.
Patricia Edgar, In Praise of Ageing (Text Publishing, 2013) 8.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Welfare 2011, Cat No AUS 412 (2011) 11.