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Saturday, June 25, 2022

New DA learning module helps workers prevent, recognise, and act on elders’ financial abuse

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To honour Wednesday’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Dementia Australia has released a new, free module on their Ask Annie mobile app to improve carer’s knowledge of financial abuse, especially in the context of a person with dementia.

The new Ask Annie module aims to improve care workers’ knowledge through a series of animated scenarios that explain what financial elder abuse is, how to recognise the signs, and strategies to prevent or report it.

Financial elder abuse is one of the most common types of abuse experienced by older people, most often perpetrated by trusted adult children or other family members.

Tanya Petrovich, Dementia Australia’s business innovation manager, tells Aged Care News that elders living with dementia are sadly even more vulnerable to financial abuse than the general older population.

“People living with dementia are uniquely vulnerable to financial abuse as many become dependent on another person to manage their financial affairs, via the power of attorney or enduring power of attorney.

“Some may not even have appointed a power of attorney and they are allowing others to assist them who may not always be doing the right thing.  They may not recognise that the abuse is occurring, and if they do, they may be unable to report it.

“If they do report it, it is often dismissed with claims of ‘you are confused, or you don’t remember, or you are paranoid’.

Tanya Petrovich, Dementia Australia’s business innovation manager, says that the new Ask Annie module will give workers confidence to aid clients with dementia who are experiencing financial abuse.

Whilst the neurodegenerative disease may eventually render an older person unable to control their own financial affairs, many instances of abuse occur when a diagnosis is used as an excuse for a person to, prematurely and disproportionately, seize control of the elder’s affairs.

“Largely as a result of stigma, people living with dementia are perceived to lack the ability to make reasonable decisions and therefore are denied their agency,” Petrovich says.

“However, we know this is not the case, that people living with dementia are capable of making decisions and can often continue to do so with support.

“Also, capacity is decision specific: the person may have difficulty with complex decisions such as deciding where and how to invest their money, but they are quite capable of deciding where they want to shop or what they want to purchase.

“So it’s really important that people living with dementia are provided the opportunity to be involved in all decisions impacting them, a capacity assessment can help to determine this. 

Sadly, Petrovich points out that financial abuse of a person with dementia is often preceded by psychological abuse.

The early stages of dementia is when more commonly psychological abuse occurs before financial abuse, where threats such as withholding visits or access to grandchildren if money isn’t handed over or power of attorney is not signed over.

“In the later stages, the person often does not recognise what is occurring, so there is less psychological abuse, yet they are living with the consequences of the abuse: this being poor health care or less than ideal accommodation options.

“In other instances, adult children move into the person’s house under the premise of ‘caring for them’ or they move the person into an aged care facility and take over the person’s house.

“In many situations, the perpetrator believes they can get away with it because the person has dementia.”  

Technology is advancing at a pace that many find hard to keep up with, and for elders with dementia, this can mean disempowerment over their financial affairs.

“People living with dementia may have more difficulties understanding and using technology like banking apps, or online shopping and even using EFTPOS,” Petrovich says.

“This can further leave the person in a situation where they are relying on another person, who may not always have their best interest at heart.”

Gwenda Darling, a Council of Elders member who lives with dementia, says that workers are often a vital lifeline for elders experiencing abuse.  

“For many senior Australians, often care workers observe changes as they are the only independent people going into their homes or residential care facilities,” she says.

“It is so important care workers have the skills to recognise changes and provide suitable support.”

Gwenda Darling, who lives with dementia, endorses the app, saying that providing aged care workers with skills to recognise financial abuse will make a difference in protecting vulnerable elders from exploitation.

Petrovich acknowledges that is may be an intimidating task for workers wishing to intervene in an instance of suspected financial abuse, saying this is exactly why Dementia Australia developed the new module.

“Through the app, workers learn about the types of power of attorney and the limitations involved for a power of attorney and what is involved for an enduring power of attorney – highlighting situations where misuse of the attorney can be taking place.

“It also informs workers about capacity and understanding what that means, empowering them to take notice of the person living with dementia and their personal decisions.

“The financial elder abuse module on the Ask Annie app uses scenarios that are relatable to both workers in home and community settings and residential aged care settings to help them recognise situations that are possible red flags, from overhearing conversations where coercion is involved, to seeing incomplete paperwork lying around the house, to noticeable changes in behaviour through body language or changes in mood, and even isolation or sudden changes to services.

“The underpinning approach to the lessons is that ‘awareness and education are the first steps towards prevention’ and with all lessons, workers are encouraged to work within their scope of practice and report appropriately. “

The Ask Annie app simulates real life scenarios, teaching workers about the signs of abuse to look out for as they care for elders in-home or in a residential facility.

Ask Annie, a mobile app, offers short, self-paced learning modules to help care workers refresh their skills and learn tips and tools to provide better care to people living with dementia.

The new module is live now, with the Ask Annie app available to be downloaded via the Google Play Store or Apple App Store.

The app now offers four modules for free, including:

  • The key ingredients – four lessons that explore the characteristics and attitudes required of workers when supporting people living with dementia.
  • Key concepts – six lessons that introduce the key concepts relevant to providing quality support. These include human rights, reducing stigma and explaining the CAUSEd model in order to understand changed behaviour.
  • C for Communication – 12 lessons that help to develop communication skills and help users to build positive relationships with the people they support.
  • The new financial abuse awareness modules

To unlock the full application with access to all modules, the cost is $60 per person per year with multi-license packages available for organisations.

For information on purchasing packages, please email cdl@dementia.org.au.

Ask Annie was developed by Dementia Australia with Deakin University’s Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute (A2I2) and funded by a Gandel Foundation multi-year major grant.

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