Making safer havens for our older people


Dr Vivien Rodgers from Massey University’s School of Nursing and Dr Polly Yeung from Massey University’s School of Social Work.


Nursing homes should be safe places for our older people, but unfortunately, the number of cases of abuse and neglect in nursing homes and residential care facilities continues to grow.

This Thursday marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and the beginning of World Elder Abuse Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Elder abuse hits close to home”, and the statistics back that up. In New Zealand, 75 per cent of alleged abusers are family members, and more than half of the alleged abusers adult children or grandchildren.

According to the World Health Organisation, the mistreatment of older people in long-term care facilities has been identified in almost every country where these institutions exist. However, precise data on the prevalence of abuse or neglect in such facilities is lacking, because of its hidden nature and inadequate procedures for its identification. 

However, instances of abuse are thought to be far more prevalent in the community. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in New Zealand, eight per cent of abuse happens in a rest home while the remaining 92 per cent is committed at home.

A recent study published by Dr Polly Yeung from Massey’s School of Social Work and Dr Vivien Rodgers from the School of Nursing in Nursing Praxis New Zealand: Journal of Professional Nursing explored perceptions of quality of life and care satisfaction from residents and their family members in New Zealand residential settings.

Dr Yeung says results indicated a resident’s dignity in long-term care homes is the most important element in maintaining their quality of life. “Family members also reported that staff-family relationships through constructive communication and a welcoming environment is essential for the best level of care.

“Residents need to have their privacy respected and upheld and if they cannot express their identity through their own preferences for personal space, this will seriously impact how they maintain a sense of self in long-term care facilities. These aspects can be neglected in busy facilities, particularly when the focus is on providing technical nursing and medical care.”

In light of the rising demand for quality residential aged care, Dr Yeung and Dr Rodgers are currently working on a project on benchmarking care problems among older people in New Zealand hospitals and aged care facilities. This project, entitled The National Care Indicators Programme, is being led by Professor Jenny Carryer from the School of Nursing, along with Dr Andy Towers from the School of Public Health and Dr Jan Weststrate, an Honorary Research Fellow from the School of Nursing.

Dr Rodgers says the older and more frail people are, the greater the risk factor for a range of conditions, including elder abuse and neglect, manifesting through conditions such as pressure injuries and impaired mobility.

“Our preliminary findings indicate that residents in aged care homes are more likely to experience frequent problems including pressure injuries, incontinence, falls and malnutrition, impacting significantly on care dependency in residents.

“Benchmarking these quality indicators could allow the collection of data about the quality of care provided by participating aged care provider organisations. This could assist families to make informed decisions about the placement of their ageing family members. As the older population increases, New Zealand’s aged care infrastructure requires comprehensive geriatric evaluation and treatment in both hospitals and nursing homes,” Dr Rodgers says.

So what should you do if you suspect abuse or neglect in a rest-home or hospital?

  • Discuss the situation with the older person if possible and register your concerns with senior management
  • Ask to see the complaints procedure from the home or hospital
  • If your concerns are not addressed, contact your local Age Concern and speak to a member of the Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention team
  • The Ministry of Health’s HealthCert Team audits rest homes and provides access to a list of certified rest homes
  • The Health and Disability Commissioner reviews complaints about health and disability services

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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

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