New research finds older Victorians are facing an increased risk of elder abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic

Older Victorians faced unique challenges during the pandemic, including an amplification of perceived vulnerability and removal of agency.

A report commissioned by Respect Victoria has found that older Victorians are experiencing increased ageism, social isolation, and poorer physical and mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the risk of elder abuse.

Conducted by the Gender and Disaster Pod (GAD Pod) and the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI), the research was commissioned to gain an understanding of the impact of disasters on older people with a focus on the prevention of elder abuse. 

The research was carried out between June and August 2020 and encompasses interviews with older Victorians aged 67-98 years old.

“This research gives us a rare insight into how older people in Victoria experienced COVID-19,” said GAD Pod Manager Deb Parkinson. “Although peace of mind was an early casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, our informants drew on past experiences and the values they had kept over a lifetime – values of caring for each other.”

“It is essential for all of us who care about a cohesive and caring society to ask, and then listen to older people, no more so than in times of disaster.”

The report highlights an increase in ageism during the pandemic, which was compounded when combined with other forms of discrimination like sexism, racism or homophobia.

“Older Victorians faced unique challenges during the pandemic, including an amplification of perceived vulnerability and removal of agency,” said Respect Victoria CEO Tracey Gaudry.

Researchers found that media reporting and sentiment often served to exacerbate ageist attitudes and stereotypes in the community. 

“Ageism is a significant driver of elder abuse, and as a society we must address it early. The language that we use and stories we tell must be respectful, and not marginalise older Victorians,” said Ms Gaudry. 

One participant said: “It was clearly stated if there was a choice between who to save and who not to, that the younger person would be looked after … My life is valued less and less by people around me.”

“This pilot research study is a critical first step in canvassing older people’s experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the measures enacted by Australia’s federal and state governments in response,” said NARI Director Briony Dow.

“Further quantitative and qualitative research on elder abuse and COVID-19 should be done to inform prevention work in the context of future disasters.”

The report highlighted the resilience of the participants and their capacity to cope. Most participants spoke to the importance of maintaining family, community and intergenerational friendships before and during the disaster.

Simon, a 68-year-old participant said: “You need to be able to communicate with people of your own tribe – mine is LGBTIQ … it’s about having someone to talk to  – somebody you can relate to.” 

The report includes recommendations to inform the primary prevention of elder abuse by Respect Victoria and the primary prevention sector, emergency management services, the media and the broader community. 

To access the 'Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on older people: A family violence prevention project' full research report and summary, visit Respect Victoria's Research webpage.