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Fears for the elderly: Age Concern Southland manager Janette Turner

By MATTHEW MCKEW

There are fears Covid-19 is providing the perfect excuse for abusers to isolate their victims,
Age Concern’s warning.

It comes at the same time as a City Hall report says Queenstown’s ‘‘young people’’ are facing ‘‘alcohol, drug and eating issues’’ due to stress caused by the worldwide pandemic.

Age Concern Southland manager Janette Turner says referrals for elder abuse — ranging from financial control to physical assault — have shot up since lockdown, because fewer eyes are watching those who’re vulnerable.

‘‘I am getting four to six referrals for abuse a week,’’ she says, though that includes the
whole of Southland.

Previously, Age Concern dealt with just one or two a month.

Turner says lockdown put pressure on families isolating together, while in other cases
older people were left alone with their abuser.

‘‘Through Covid, the perpetrator has the perfect excuse to say no [visits], they could bring
Covid in.’’

Turner says in some cases those helping with shopping are refusing to return bank cards and are even buying groceries using the older person’s money.

Turner says many other older people are contacting Age Concern because of isolation, frailty and inability to access support.

When older people returned to lunches and social gatherings run by Age Concern after lockdown, they were looking ‘‘frail and lacking confidence’’.

‘‘They were shaking, they were frail, some of the men who are regulars were so pleased to be back, but they were so nervous.’’

The move to Alert Level 2’s also prompting older people to stay home, fearful of community
transmission.

Turner says Age Concern’s postponed some events, but is ensuring its centres are sanitised
and stick to social-distancing measures.

Despite the concerns from Age Concern, Queenstown police say they’re not being called to any more cases than usual.

One of the Queenstown’s top cops, long-time senior sergeant John Fookes, says they
acknowledge not all reports would make their way to police.

Door’s always open: Top Queenstown cop John Fookes. PICTURE: BLAIR PATTINSON

‘‘When people are in a difficult situation, please seek help from a professional and if it is criminal, our door is always open.’’

He says the same goes for any increase in young people using drugs or alcohol.

Again, though, it might be they just haven’t come to the attention of the law.

Wakatipu High School principal Steve Hall’s refusing to comment on the council report.

The report itself surmises young adults may be feeling vulnerable because of family
stress, anxiety related to studies and uncertainty about opportunities post-Covid-19.

It quotes an unnamed source as saying: ‘‘We have young people who have been successful in the past and the world is starting to unravel.

‘‘They had a plan and now don’t know where they are going.’’

Southern District Health Board allied health, mental health and addictions director Adell Cox says there’s been an increase in referrals for anxiety and low mood among children and young people.

The mental health and addiction tsar says Central Lakes Family Services is now employing
a full-time social worker for the seven Wakatipu primary schools.

But Cox says the health board’s not reporting any increase in drug, alcohol or eating issues for children and young people in the area.

She does, though, recognise ‘‘the Queenstown Lakes community has been dealt some serious challenges this year’’ and urges anybody needing help to speak to their GP.

‘‘We are continuing to monitor the situation.

‘‘It is acknowledged that we are living through a confusing and stressful time, and young people need support to develop the strategies and perspective to prevent their circumstances feeling overwhelming.’’

City Hall can’t publicly name the organisations that contributed to the report.

That’s because they spoke to the writers in confidence.

But it will provide details privately to the media to allow for more research into the anecdotal evidence of increased referrals.

Council media man Jack Barlow says City Hall’s concerned for the ‘‘psycho-social well-being of people within our community’’.

The council’s also pushing for more funding in the area and developing a ‘‘youth-related work programme’’.

matthew.mckew@scene.co.nz