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How a crafty tiny home can help reduce elder abuse

3 June 2024

When you think of a warm, safe home, what comes to mind? Here’s how an art project is starting important conversations ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June.

Whatever a warm safe home means to you, it’s likely that love, safety and respect are at the top of the list.

“Whether you’re rich or poor, a bit of understanding and care for each other [at home] is everything,” Vera said.

Ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Vera joined other older people and students for one of eight workshops in neighbourhood centres and libraries in the City of Melbourne.

“Where there is love in the home, there is everything else.”

two cardboard houses decorated with cut-out pictures and icypole sticks to feel warm and safe

Participants sat together at a long table laden with craft materials. Each person folded a colourful cardboard template into the shape of house.

While chatting about what makes a safe, warm home, everyone decorated their tiny house with sparkly ephemera and cut-out photos: cats, plants, books, butterflies, a strong roof, lace curtains.

“It’s amazing how unique all our houses have turned out, given that we were all discussing similar issues,” Laura said. She took part in one of the intergenerational workshops.

Join us for the Warm Safe Home exhibition launch on 13 June, followed by a discussion with a panel of experts.

Warm Safe Home art therapy project in action

Read on to find out more about elder abuse and the Warm Safe Home project.

What is elder abuse?

All older people have a right to a warm, safe home. And yet Australian statistics tell us that one in six older people in Australia experience elder abuse.

Elder abuse is a form of family violence most often committed by an adult child. Abusers can also be other family members, relatives or friends.

Elder abuse can range from not considering an older person’s needs to intentionally causing harm.

It can often stem from an adult child’s sense of entitlement to their parent’s money.

Elder abuse is often hidden. An older person might be unaware that the perpetrator’s actions are a type of abuse.

Or they might conceal the signs of elder abuse due to feelings of shame, or fear of the impact and reactions of other family members and friends.

An older person may also fear what might happen if they do speak up.

Starting a conversation about elder abuse

The Warm Safe Home project was conceived in 2020 to highlight older people’s equal right to live free from fear.

This year in the lead-up to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, art therapist Kim Waters co-facilitated eight Warm Safe Home workshops to start a conversation about elder abuse across the generations.

“Participants are decorating the houses, while also talking about what creates a warm, safe home, and how we can support people to live their best lives,” Kim said.

“What makes a warm, safe home? What makes people comfortable in their own home?

“While creating an awareness of age discrimination, it’s created the conversation around a difficult topic – elder abuse.”

For the group of high school students at the craft table, these workshops have created an opportunity to learn and share.

“There have been a lot of really similar ideas such as love, respect, family,” said one student.

“It’s been really good to understand what a home means to different generations.”

Many likened the activity to spending time with their grandparents.

“I just really enjoyed talking to the older person I was paired with. I’m really thankful to her. She’s really opened my eyes about the types of experiences I want in my life,” said another student.

What are the types of elder abuse?

A common thread that runs through different types of elder abuse is a lack of respect for an older person’s autonomy, and the devaluing of their right to live well.

Some forms of elder abuse include:

  • Emotional abuse: causing feelings of shame or powerlessness through humiliation or harassment. Often combined with other forms of abuse.
  • Neglect: refusing older people the essentials of life, including food, medication and warmth.
  • Financial abuse: using an older person’s money, property or other assets without proper permission, forcing changes to a will or document signing. Inheritance impatience, for example, can occur when an adult child feels entitled to money from the older person’s estate before they die. With increasing life expectancy, adult children are waiting longer for their inheritance. Some are not prepared to wait and try to persuade parents to gift them money or assets.
  • Physical abuse: causing pain or injury by hitting, pushing, or using restraints.
  • Social abuse: blocking an older person from family, friends or services. Used to isolate an older person so they don’t have contact with anyone else.
  • Sexual abuse: Any sexual activity the older person has not consented to. This includes not giving the older person privacy while they wash or leaving them in a state of undress. It refers to sexually exploitative or shaming acts.

Find out more at Seniors Rights Victoria.

Why elder abuse is everybody’s business

As a whole society, we can tackle ageism through education and intergenerational programs to build greater respect and understanding between older and younger people.

At an individual level, we can take action as bystanders, because elder abuse is everyone’s business.

How older people can take action on elder abuse

Older people can take action by:

  • Maintain your social connection with friends, family and support networks.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Get support to make your own financial and health care decisions.
  • Plan ahead and communicate your wishes, including appointing an enduring power of attorney to manage your finances and a medical treatment decision-maker, should you become too unwell to make these decisions yourself
  • Get professional advice before gifting money or property to family in return for care.

Thinking about gifting money or property in return for care?

Seek professional advice before gifting money or property to family in return for care and ensure there is a written agreement in case it doesn’t work out.

It is easy to think you don’t need to worry about making things legal when it comes to family members.

But things can go wrong when you move in with family members.

Think carefully before making changes to your living situation such as moving in with family or having someone move into your home to care for you. Find out about your options.

An older person can find themselves experiencing homelessness when their arrangement falls through.

How we can all prevent elder abuse

Conversations are an important way to build understanding between generations.

“There should be more intergenerational participation,” said one older workshop participant.

Talking about elder abuse can help an older person understand their own experience and find out where to get further information, support and advice.

Older people have the right to be safe in their home, because respect, love and care in the home is important. No matter what.

We can all take action to help prevent elder abuse.

Warm Safe Home exhibition launch and discussion

Join us for the Warm Safe Homes exhibition launch to see the tiny craft homes built during these art therapy workshops.

The event includes a discussion with experts from Homes Melbourne, Seniors Rights Victoria, and the Housing for the Aged Action Group.

  • What: Warm Safe Homes exhibition launch for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
  • When: Thursday 13 June from 10am to midday
  • Where: Swanston Hall, Melbourne Town Hall
  • Free: Bookings essential.
An orange house made of cardboard on a craft table with other houses - red and blue- being crafted.

Show solidarity on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Elder abuse is everyone’s business. On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, 15 June, two venues in the City of Melbourne will shine with purple light.

Make the most of this moment to help us start the conversation about elder abuse.

  • Head to Coles Fountain in Parliament Reserve or the Conservatory in Fitzroy Gardens at sunset on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, 15 June.
  • Take a photo of yourself in front of the fountain or Conservatory. Post the photo on social media with hashtags #WEAAD and #melbmoment
  • Tag City of Melbourne on Facebook or Instagram to let us know you’re spreading the word.
  • Start conversations with your neighbours, friends and family.

If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse in Victoria, or for more information, visit Seniors Rights Victoria or call 1300 368 821.

Coles Fountain in Parliament Reserve, East Melbourne

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