Spotlight on protecting our elders

Dunedin-based social worker Trici Grothe-Robertson (left) is welcomed to the Age Concern Otago...
Dunedin-based social worker Trici Grothe-Robertson (left) is welcomed to the Age Concern Otago Elder Abuse Response Service team by chief executive Penelope Pask. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
Age Concern Otago is putting the spotlight on older people’s rights to live free from exploitation and abuse, as it marks Elder Abuse Awareness Week, running from June 15-22.

The national campaign, which has the theme "Spot the Signs", highlights elder abuse is often perpetrated by the people closest to the older person — people they trust. It is believed 75% of alleged abusers are family members.

Elder abuse is not often reported — partly because it is not always recognised by the older person themselves, or the people around them.

It could involve many different types of behaviour, including being threatened, humiliated or harassed, stealing money or unexplained transactions, being pressured to sign legal documents, any non-consensual sexual activity, or self-neglect.

Age Concern Otago chief executive Penelope Pask said elder abuse could be tackled if an older person sought help and intervention services early.

"That is where we come in."

In the past year, the Age Concern Otago Elder Abuse Response Service has responded to 192 referrals for elder abuse, particularly financial abuse, and has delivered 37 education sessions to 688 people.

The service is changing in the wake of the recent retirement of long-serving elder abuse social worker Marie Bennett.

Ms Bennett was recently awarded a King’s Service Medal for services to seniors in acknowledgement of her 30-plus year career.

Fellow Dunedin-based Elder Abuse Response Service social worker Tim Ollerenshaw started working alongside Ms Bennett at Age Concern Otago in January, 2023. He brings experience in community social work, financial mentoring, and transitional housing to the role.

Also joining the team is social worker Trici Grothe-Robertson, who has worked in several Dunedin social agencies, most recently in the transitional housing space at the Salvation Army.

Now in her fourth week in the role, Mrs Grothe-Robertson was "still learning the ropes" and was finding it fascinating to gain an insight into the work of the service.

"We work in the community with clients of all ages and diverse backgrounds, and there are some complex issues involved, which I am learning about.

Social worker Tim Ollerenshaw is the other Dunedin-based member of the Age Concern Otago’s Elder...
Social worker Tim Ollerenshaw is the other Dunedin-based member of the Age Concern Otago’s Elder Abuse Response Service team. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
"Fortunately, I am surrounded by a very patient and supportive team here, who are happy to answer questions."

The Elder Abuse Response Service team also includes Central Otago-based social worker Rosanna Pritchard and Oamaru-based social worker Sharon McGregor.

Mrs Pask said the expanded social work team also included Dunedin-based community social worker Annie Nevin.

"We are building a strong team, who will be working hard to provide a responsive and effective service."

Mrs Pask said Age Concern Otago wanted to remind older people that any abuse they may have suffered was not their fault, they were not alone, and that confidential help and advice was only a phone call or email away.

"Our role is to support the older person, to ensure they are informed, that they have a voice, and that they can make their own choices," she said.

"Our team work from a place of respect, and take time to build a relationship of trust with the older person."

An important step towards helping to prevent elder abuse was for older people to get an enduring power of attorney (EPA).

Most people assume that if they lose the ability to make decisions for themselves, their partner or a close relative will legally be able to make decisions for them. However, the law doesn’t work like that.

"We are encouraging people to have a conversation around how an enduring power of attorney can established with a person or organisation you trust and are confident they will act in your best interests," she said.

Report elder abuse

If you suspect elder abuse, freephone 0800 326-6865, text 5032, or email

Alternatively, call Age Concern Otago on 477-1040.