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Lend a hand . . . Age Concern's Heather Johnston is setting up a system to help elderly people stay connected during isolation. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

The Waitaki district is not immune from the growing problem of elderly abuse in New Zealand, Age Concern Otago elder abuse response worker Heather Johnston says.

Ms Johnston, who comes from the Bay of Plenty, has spent her career working to prevent and support victims of family violence.

She moved to Oamaru nine months ago and took up a job with Age Concern.

“I have been absolutely shocked at what is happening, not just in Oamaru, but right across the board in New Zealand to our elderly people,” Ms Johnston said.

“This is an area which all of us at some stage are going to grow into.”

Research indicated that one in 10 older people were victims of elder abuse.

Most of it went unreported, she said.

“It then comes under the umbrella of a position of trust, so it can be a caregiver going into the home, but 80% is coming from family,” Ms Johnston said.

“At 65, abuse is meant to stop. We have heard about child abuse, we hear about the violence done in families .. and then at 65 we don’t hear it.”

Abuse was often financial or through neglect, either through a failure of family or caregivers to provide safety, or self-neglect through isolation, she said.

“There is a sense of entitlement that people have,” she said.

“Especially if a family are under huge stress, it’s always the vulnerable get hurt.”

Since she moved to Oamaru, Ms Johnston had been impressed by the Safer Waitaki project, and the efforts of the Oamaru police.

The way Safer Waitaki and Age Concern were working towards becoming an age-friendly community was “amazing”, she said.

“Then we can shine a light on the abuse that is in the dark places now because if it’s age-friendly it’s OK to ask for help, it’s okay to wonder about that person next door.

“The solution to it is actually community ownership.

“The police can’t solve violence because it’s already happened by the time they are called.”

The key was to speak up and not let abuse go unreported, she said.

“Come and tell me, at least tell someone,” she said.

“See something – say something. To do nothing gives all power to the abuser.

“Come to Age Concern. It costs nothing to walk in that door and have a cup of coffee or tea and say about my neighbours, is there anything I can do?’.

“It’s my job to know where that is, if I don’t know I will sure as hell find somebody that does.”