“If all of people without disabilities were to, just for a moment, stop and think and say, ‘If I get to 80 and I'm not fit or well, what do I want the world to do for me?’ Then I think we'd get a change,” Monash University’s head of health law and ageing research unit, Joseph Ibrahim, told Nest Egg.
“What currently happens is that young people all believe nothing's going to happen to them, or if something happens to them that they say they will opt out and go the route of assisted dying, because they can't bear to be old or disabled.
“This shows a fundamental lack of understanding and empathy, and it's really quite a stupid approach to life to say I'd rather be dead than give up one thing about my physical or cognitive ability.”
Speaking to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, recognised on 15 June, Mr Ibrahim said greater engagement with the realities of ageing and the potential for positive ageing will also trigger greater activism on behalf of older Australians, and the future self.
He said people need to consider how they want themselves or their friends to be treated in the future if they were to become vulnerable after developing dementia or having a stroke.
Further, Australians need to connect with the reality that elder abuse is often at the hands of family members.
“You can't imagine that your kids are ever going to do anything to you and stuff, but people aren't always the same,” Mr Ibrahim said.
“People don't choose to be abused or neglected. That's just sort of the fundamental aspect of how humans behave with those that are vulnerable and so to pretend that we're not going to be vulnerable is, I think, foolish but understandable because we don't want to face that reality.”
The next step is activism, but this will need to come from younger Australians, Mr Ibrahim said, noting that pushing for strengthening of laws and the establishment of stronger reporting systems takes energy.
He said there needs to be better reporting and support systems to allow those suffering from financial abuse to take action and research into how and why the abuse manifests.
“We tend to ask the person, do you want to report this, and if the older person says no, we stop. If it was a child, we wouldn't. The question then is, is that what they really want? How do we manage that, because they may not want to upset family because they want to keep seeing their grandchildren,” Mr Ibrahim said.
“We need a whole lot more research to understand the issues, because there's virtually no research in the area. And then we need education and training of people that provide services to older people. “
“Then, something around the form of reporting so that it's there and it's taken seriously. And I think you need specialised teams to do this. You would need community policing, not just regular police to deal with it, because the matter is generally very sensitive.”