The 2010 death of Janet Lois Mackozdi was a case of ‘elder abuse’, says Coroner Olivia McTaggart, who has handed down her report on the case.
Ms McTaggart said elder abuse does not receive the same attention as other forms of abuse, despite it being “significant issue” in Australia’s ageing population.
“Despite its apparent prevalence, elder abuse has not achieved the same public health priority as other forms of violence,” Ms McTaggart wrote in her report.
While the details of Mrs Mackozdi’s case are distressing, it’s important that the details of this case, and others like it, are brought to light, so that the scope of elder abuse in Australia can be more fully understood.
It is only by understanding the problems, and acknowledging them, that we can begin to find solutions.
“Freezing shipping container”
Mrs Mackozdi died during the night on 23 July 2010 from hypothermia. She was sleeping in a shipping container with no insulation and with gaps around the windows and doors. Her only source of heat was a three-bar radiator.
Experts at the coronial inquiry estimated the temperature inside the container would have been between -1.0C and 2.9C.
Mrs Mackozdi was frail, underweight, and in the advanced stages of dementia at the time she died.
The container was on a property owned by Mrs Mackozdi’s daughter and son-in-law, who were also responsible for her around-the-clock care.
The Coroner’s report revealed details of Mrs Mackozdi’s daughter exerting significant financial control over her mother, for example threatening to prevent her from seeing her grandchildren unless she gave them money.
“In my view, the neglect of Mrs Mackozdi’s health and her financial exploitation over an extended period by family members whom she trusted, falls within the definition of ‘elder abuse’,” Ms McTaggart wrote.
“The facts of this sad case raise for comment the issue of elder abuse, a matter of increasing concern for the community as the Tasmanian population ages. The care of vulnerable elderly citizens is a matter of increasing community attention,” the Coroner wrote.
Mr and Mrs Anglin were both charged with manslaughter following Mrs Mackozdi’s death. After pleading guilty, both were sentenced to two years in prison.
Coroner’s recommendations to tackle elder abuse
While the data is not available for Australia, overseas studies show that elder abuse affects between two and twelve per cent of older people.
Australia’s ageing population means that elder abuse is likely to remain a growing problem – the proportion of Australians aged 65 or over expected to rise from 15 per cent of the population in 2014-15 to 23 per cent by 2055.
Ms McTaggart recommended the Tasmanian government implement various changes to help protect the interests of older Tasmanians. She recommended the government:
- review legislation surrounding the prevention or responses to abuse, neglect or exploitation of older persons, and to implement reform where necessary;
- develop of an Elder Abuse Prevention Action Plan;
- establish an independent body in relation to elder abuse;
- and that the government considers increasing the powers, and “appropriately resourcing”, the Office of the Public Guardian.
In recognition of the growing problem of elder abuse in Australia, in February the Attorney-General Christian Porter launched a National Plan for Elder Abuse to promote the autonomy of older Australians, to address ageism, to promote understanding of elder abuse, and to provide safeguards for at-risk older people.