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Elderly women deserve their age of respect

Something remarkable is afoot. The Victorian Chief Commissioner of Police, Ken Lay, and the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, are talking publicly about male attitudes towards women. On the Victorian Police website, Ken Lay suggests that “our culture is filled with men who hold an indecent sense of entitlement towards women”.

Ken Lay and David Morrison are both middle-aged men in charge of organisations with masculine cultures. They are not your typical feminists. Although many men treat women respectfully, these men go one step further by viewing social issues through ‘gender goggles’. It is a giant step.

Gender goggles are illuminating. They bring into clear focus the fact that a person’s gender influences attitudes and behaviours towards them. Gender goggles highlight issues for women such as discrimination, human rights abuses, domestic violence, rape, glass ceilings, inadequate childcare, political underrepresentation, catcalling, bullying and financial disadvantage such as unfair pay and unequal superannuation.

Unlike rose coloured glasses and beer goggles that provide optimistic perceptions, gender goggles are not a frivolous fashion accessory. Ken Lay’s gender goggles enable him to see that some people perceive women as “less valuable than men”. This perception applies to women of all ages, including older women.

When gender goggles are applied to older women, particularly women who have not been the family’s breadwinner, they may show the humiliation of financial elder abuse. Studies confirm that financial abuse is the most common, and fastest-growing, type of abuse of older women.

Research shows that women over the age of 80 are most at risk of financial elder abuse. This research found that adult sons are the most common perpetrators. Some adult sons assume that money that was once ‘Mum and Dad’s money’ is now their money, even though their mothers are alive and well. They make assumptions that devalue the rights of their mothers.

There have been several high profile trust fund disputes in which sons have sued their mothers. A former pupil of a private boys school in Sydney sued his mother after the family estate was left to his mother rather than to him. This ‘old boy’ was castigated by Justice Michael Pembroke for having a ”highly developed and unhealthy sense of entitlement”.

According to the Office of the Public Advocate, older women are more likely to be declared legally incapable than older men. This may be due to the fact that women live longer than men. It may also suggest that older men are revered whilst older women are infantilised. This was certainly the case in Julie’s family.

Julie is a middle-aged woman with five older brothers. With unseemly haste, a few days after her father’s death, a GP was asked to declare Julie’s elderly mother legally incapable. That she was bewildered, grieving and in the first weeks of widowhood after 50 years of marriage did not seem to have been taken into account.

After Julie’s mother was declared legally incapable, the youngest son became her financial power of attorney. Tony’s job was to manage his mother’s estate in her best interest. Determining what was in his mother’s best interest was contested. Was it in their mother’s best interest to keep money in the bank and continue to pay tax? Or should the children receive an early inheritance? Questions such as these divided Julie’s siblings.

The eldest son, Christopher, organised frequent financial family planning meetings. Christopher was planning his own retirement and unashamedly cast his eyes towards the Bank of Mum rather than towards his own financial planning. Julie questioned why these meetings were not convened prior to her father’s death, particularly when their father’s cognitive status was diminishing. Her question fell on deaf ears.

Tony prepared a financial spreadsheet describing ‘Mum’s assets’, sharing this spreadsheet amongst his siblings. Would a financial spreadsheet with “Dad’s assets” have been shared in the same way if their mother had died first? Of course not.

Then came the zinger. Julie was told that her mother’s monthly expenses were excessive. Julie’s sister-in-law explained to her: “Your brothers are worried about their inheritance. What’s wrong with that?” Gob-smacking stuff.

Julie went into full feminist flight to show her brothers, their wives and anyone else who would listen exactly what was wrong. She defended her mother’s right to spend her own money. Julie argued that their father would have wanted his wife to have as much lemon squash, cheddar cheese, milk chocolate and shortbread biscuits as she wants.

Two brothers supported her; the other three bunkered down, ensconced in their men’s club with others who share their views. These brothers refused to engage with Julie. They simply dismissed Julie’s views as offensive, describing her as mad and bad, as powerful men often do.

Julie’s gender goggles gave her clarity. On every issue, she asked her brothers a simple question: “Would you have treated our father like this?” However, her three older brothers had stopped listening years ago.

Perhaps Julie’s brothers will listen to The Victorian Chief Commissioner of Police and the Chief of the Australian Army talking about men’s sense of entitlement. Men with gender goggles may be easier on their ears.

Kathleen Brasher and Sarah Russell*

Published in The Age

(*Sarah was not named as an author because she did not want to embarrass her family)



The problem of parental plunder

Australians are living longer and living richer than at any time. While some older people are enjoying their wealth – travelling the world, their luggage broadcasting that they are ”spending their children’s inheritance” – others live in aged care facilities, with their children keeping their eyes peeled on the ”Bank of Mum and Dad”.

As economic conditions worsen, this second group is at greater risk than ever of being financially abused. And research has found that adult children, particularly sons, are the most common perpetrators.

State Trustees Victoria has recorded a spike in the numbers of
older Victorians who are financially abused as well as the
amount of money involved. A research paper it commissioned,
For Love or Money: Intergenerational management of older
Victorians’ assets, found that women over the age of 80 are
most at risk of financial elder abuse, often by someone in a position of trust – their children.

Children with ”early inheritance syndrome” feel a sense of entitlement to their parents’ assets. They are not prepared to wait until their parents die. These impatient children seek ways for their parents to ”gift” them money, or interfere in the management of their parents’ assets to protect what they see as their entitlement.

Financial elder abuse involves taking or misusing an older person’s money, property or assets. It also includes persuading an older person to change their will through deception or undue influence.

Financial elder abuse may begin with the best intentions – with an elderly parent asking a child to act as their power of attorney and thereby manage their finances. This can quickly progress to a sense of entitlement, particularly when adult children have mortgages or debts. They often justify their actions by saying: ”Mum doesn’t need money now, and it’s going to be mine anyway.”

Studies confirm that financial abuse is the most common, and fastest-growing, type of abuse of older people. The most vulnerable include those with diminished capacity due to dementia and depression, and older people who rely on others to manage their finances. However, there is little reliable data on its extent. It is often a silent crime – unreported, unacknowledged.

Earlier this year the banking industry tried to raise awareness of financial elder abuse by announcing initiatives to help prevent this silent crime. But like all silent crimes perpetrated mostly on women – domestic violence, sexual assault, bullying – financial abuse will be difficult to police.

Children with early inheritance syndrome often make ageist and sexist assumptions that devalue the rights of their elderly parents. A common one is that older people, particularly women who have not been the family’s breadwinner, find discussions about financial issues complex and stressful. Not only is this patronising but also it disempowers older women. Another is that having a large amount of money does not improve an older person’s quality of life. Most of us take comfort in the security of having savings. Why would older people be any different? The generation that experienced the Depression may take even more comfort from having a safety net than their children.

The third assumption is that a parent is no worse off after gifting money to their children. This is absurd. The less money they have, the less able they are to make decisions about how their money is spent.

Reducing an older person’s income also reduces fees at an aged care facility – helpful for beneficiaries, but older people may appreciate the care they receive from staff at the facility. They may feel an aged care facility that provides daily care deserves their money more than children who visit infrequently with flowers and chocolates.

The final assumption is that an older person’s current will is their final one. Most people change their wills throughout their lives as circumstances change. Why would older people be different? After spending several years in an aged care facility, parents may change their mind about who should receive their money. They may once have wanted their assets shared equally among their children. But later in life, when their children are financially secure, some older people may prefer to give money to Doctors without Borders, The Lost Dogs Home, or even a kind nurse at the aged care facility. This is surely their decision, not their children’s.

As the vulnerability of older people increases, their dependence on family members also increases. Often they do not want to say ”No” to their children’s requests for money or asset transfers for fear of upsetting these relationships. Sadly, at a time when they most need their children’s love and support, the love of money can trump a person’s love for mum or dad.

Philomena Horsley and Sarah Russell*

*Sarah was not named as an author because she did not want to embarrass her family


Generation google

Letter, The Age

I regularly do The Age crossword with a delightful group of elderly women who live in an aged-care facility. These women have done the crossword for more than 60 years. For them, nothing is certain except death, taxes and The Age crossword.

These women have an excellent knowledge of synonyms that leaves me for dead. They also easily adapted to the increasing inclusion of short phrases in the crossword. There was laughter when we finally came up with ”trip of a lifetime” for the clue ”most remembered tour”.

However, the general knowledge questions often leave them bewildered. They had no clue who Andy Murray’s tennis coach is or who are citizens of Yerevan.

Rather than complain, these older women simply move with the times. They ask me to pull out the gadget in my pocket and ”google” the answers.

 Sarah Russell, Northcote



An aged care facility in crisis: Consumer action to improve standards of care

In 2012, relatives at an aged care home in Melbourne were concerned about inadequate care. Relatives documented incidents of negligence, incompetence, staff not telling the truth, bullying and racial vilification.They also reported numerous thefts, though this was difficult to prove because victims were invariably people with dementia.

Fortunately, the owner responded positively to our list of grievances. Most importantly, he replaced the manager. Good managers are the linchpins of a quality aged care home.


If you really need care, public is the way to go

The Age August 22, 2003

There’s a reason most doctors would prefer to be treated in the public hospital system, writes Sarah Russell.

The recent reporting of “adverse incidents” in Victoria’s public hospitals is welcome. It suggests a significant change in the culture within public hospitals. Rather than cover up mistakes, health-care professionals are being encouraged to report adverse incidents. Such reporting allows us to monitor the types of mistakes that occasionally occur in our busy, understaffed public hospitals. But are private hospitals any better? Do private hospitals provide safer health care?

In a two-tiered health-care system, one may expect the private system to provide better care. Many people who pay for private health insurance expect there to be fewer mistakes in private hospitals. Yet adverse incidents occur in both private and public hospitals. We just hear more about mistakes in the public system.

While public hospitals report adverse incidents, private hospitals are not forthcoming with such data. As a result, there are no official figures comparing adverse incidents in private and public hospitals. However, there is anecdotal evidence that patients with complex medical and nursing needs may be safer in a public hospital.

During a recent bedside “vigil” at a private hospital, I saw some excellent medical and nursing care. I also observed several medication errors, poor communication between doctors, and substandard nursing care. In the intensive care unit, some health-care professionals relied on unit protocols rather than their own clinical judgement. They treated the numbers on the monitor, not the patient in the bed.

Surveys of Australian doctors suggest they prefer the public system. These studies show that most doctors would prefer to be treated in a large public teaching hospital, particularly when they are seriously ill. They think competent, up-to-date health-care professionals are more likely to be found in public, not private, hospitals.

In a public teaching hospital, there are a range of health-care professionals – residents, nurses, registrars, clinical nurse specialists, medical students, nurse managers and consultants. There is nearly always a health-care professional nearby.

In a private hospital, patients may rarely see their specialist doctors. Specialists often just pop in for a short daily visit, to check the medical charts and monitor progress. Unlike the public system, there are few formal medical ward rounds or meetings between the different specialist doctors.

As a result, nurses often mediate important medical communication. Not surprisingly, communication often breaks down.

Although you can choose your doctors in the private system, you are not able to choose your nurses. Quality of nursing care in a private hospital is a bit like the lottery. You might get lucky. Then again, you might not. You may find a kind, competent nurse or you may not.

Like the public system, it is the luck of the draw. However, unlike the public system, there is less medical support when things go wrong.

Elective, uncomplicated procedures, such as routine orthopaedic surgery, may not require medical back-up. It may seem more important that the private system allows patients to bypass the waiting list and choose their own surgeon.

It is also considered a bonus when private health insurance entitles patients to hotel-like accommodation with access to a TV, bar fridge and an ensuite bathroom. Some may even find fresh seafood and wine on their dinner menu.

However, when critically ill or experiencing life-threatening post-operative complications, immediate access to competent health-care professionals is more important than oysters for dinner. Despite the problems with our public health system, many competent, up-to-date health-care professionals choose to work in public hospitals.

Although they may be overworked and under-rewarded, most health-care professionals who work in the public system are committed to high-quality, universal health care.

Melbourne writer Sarah Russell is a former critical-care nurse who has worked in public and private hospitals.

Protecting older people’s vote

This article discusses political candidates’ access to older people who live in retirement villages and aged care homes.

I became aware of the disparity in political candidates’ access to older people who live in retirement villages and aged care homes during the 2013 federal election. I noticed that only the Liberal candidate visited my mother’s aged care home. When I asked whether the other candidates would be visiting, I was told that only the Liberal candidate had been “invited”.

Retirement villages and aged care homes are private businesses. As such, they can invite people to their premises. However, it is unfair if some candidates are invited but not others.

In my view, the owners and managers of retirement villages and aged care homes should not be allowed to impose their own political preferences on their residents.

I recently raised this issue on Twitter and Facebook. I also spoke about this issue on community radio.

The campaign manager for the Independent candidate in the District of Mornington responded: “We were knocked back from speaking to residents in several aged care homes”. This raised the question: Was the Liberal candidate also “knocked back”?

The campaign manager for the Independent candidate in District of Mornington also stated that supporters were “prevented from door knocking [retirement villages]”. Again, was the Liberal candidate also prevented from door knocking?

This document collates the responses to my tweet/Facebook post. These responses suggest that there may be a disparity in political candidates’ access to older people who live in retirement villages and aged care homes. It is apparent that this disparity in candidates’ access is not limited to the District of Mornington. It is a national issue.

A copy of this document will be sent to VEC, AEC and Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. This disparity is something that needs investigation – and fixing.

Older people who live in aged care homes and retirement villages have a democratic right to vote without interference.

Disparity of access

Same when my parents were alive, RSLLifecare. They received only Liberal HTV mail, and only the Liberal candidate visited.

This is nothing new. When I stood against Peter Reith in Flinders in the 1990’s, a particular retirement village asked Peter Reith to speak. When I found out about this, I approached them. But they refused. They said it was a personal invite. There needs to be an enquiry into this unfair practice.

This is a scenario repeated around the country.

Heard so many accounts of this in Kooyong in 2019 election working for Oliver Yates. Lots of voters told us about this in a range of nursing homes in the area.

This is also an issue in Hawthorn electorate where there are many aged care homes.

Same thing happened during the federal election. That’s a lot of votes – more than enough to win. It needs to be changed. I don’t want any bias to any candidate.

Phelps lost her seat by less than the number of votes that were caste by mental facility in her electorate that had a major turn out by the residents to vote for Sharma.

Saw this here in Sydney at aged care facilities during the federal election. It feels like vote harvesting.

That was a tactic during the federal election as well. VEC must ensure this bias does not happen in future. It’s illegal, in my opinion.

That has happened in my electorate in Federal elections.

I live in suburban Adelaide, where there are a lot of the residents are in nursing homes and retirement villages, including my mother-in-law. Liberals sent out forms to request postal voting with their own material in the same envelope. So the oldies thought AEC endorsed the Libs.

It’s been happening for years, nothing is ever done about it.

When I ran I was not allowed in the aged care home at all. One home did allow me to drop off HTB cards to her and she said she would put them on the table. I later found out she was a member of LNP and had sought to be the candidate at that election but had lost to the actual candidate. So perhaps she didn’t even put my HTVs on the table.

This issue has been known about and reported to the AEC and VEC election after election. They don’t do anything.

Yep common practice in aged care.

I worked in an aged care facility on the Gold Coast in 2007. I wheelchaired a resident to vote, she was told that “we’ve voted for you”. Both resident and I were furious. this behaviour has been going on for years.

I have seen that before, where is the democracy in that Sarah? It’s like stacking the cards and cheating.

My wife who has worked as an RN in several places who accidentally did that repeatedly.

Have done (handing out and scrutineering) at that special prepoll when the returning officer comes to the facility. It’s always suss as.

There is a known history of this happening! And yet here we are still allowing it!

The same thing happens here in Queensland. Don’t know why the electoral commission doesn’t do something about it.

“Assisting” older people to vote

I’ve heard anecdotally that the incapacitated are “assisted” in voting by their relatives or home management, regardless of their personal values. Reason I’ll be leaving a “living will”!

Also staff at aged care home fill in the ballots.

I remember stories of teams of enthusiastic Liberals assisting elderly folk with their voting requirements during the Abbott era.

I heard years ago in many nursing homes some patients don’t even know who they are voting for and some just have their votes done by staff as directed by the bosses.

Way back last century I watched as nursing home residents had their ballots completed by staff at a desk, no residents present or consulted.

One [aged care home] even had Liberal Party paid “volunteers” allow to “help” the nursing home residents get vote right in booth!

Where I work there are very “helpful” people who visit and assist with voting. There isnt enough staff so homes are grateful. I reported when told by a few residents the person told them who to vote for.

Don’t forget the Liberal volunteers who go in to nursing homes to “help” them fill out their forms. I had the pleasure of removing one of these hags when she attempted to fill out the form on behalf of my Mum. Mum was in late stage Alzheimers & non verbal at that time.

Mobile centres

I believe the Liberal candidate had early knowledge of where the mobile voting centres (voting busses in aged care centres) would be too.

Actually they make it worse as they claim in mobile centres they will make independent materials “available” oh BUT ONLY if asked by the voter!

I live in a village and we had portable VEC for two days pre poll. We had both Labor and Lib here campaigning. The others were too stretched for volunteers I guess.

Volunteers are allowed there when the VEC hold a mobile voting centre there. I did them for Labor in one electorate and no other parties bothered. Most went into vote with Labor as the only HTV they could see.

Electoral role

1. Removing older people from electoral role

I was stunned at how many lazy etc suburban lawyers with guardianship took cognitive clients off the electoral roll.

Precisely the reason I had my father (with dementia) removed from the Electoral Role before the Federal Election.

2. Adding older people to electoral role

A few years ago a Sandringham aged care home signed my father up for the 1st time in 40yrs, despite no capacity.