Elder abuse is not something that is spoken of very openly. However, it is probably much more common than you might first think. Surprisingly, the prevalence of elder abuse has not been determined in Australia, but overseas studies find that elder abuse is present in 2-8% of the over-65 population. There are approximately 4 million people in Australia who are 65 years and older. Using these figures, it would mean that between 80,000 – 320,000 people are currently experiencing some form of elder abuse.

While we have used the commonly accepted term “elder abuse” above, in Australia, the term elder is used by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for those people who hold a certain status, and these people are often not in the 65 years or older demographic. Because of this, we’ll use alternate terminology throughout the rest of this article.

Abuse of older adults, similarly to domestic violence, can be incredibly difficult to identify and complex to address. Abuse is generally seen within the family or close friend network or is inflicted by a trusted professional or caregiver so uncovering it or finding out more can be very challenging. For obvious reasons, abuse of older adults is generally covered up and kept behind closed doors.

What is abuse of older adults?

Abuse of older adults occurs whenever somebody who has power over an adult 65 years or older, intentionally harms them or puts them at risk, either through an action they take, or through inaction and neglect.

The World Heath organisation defines the abuse of older adults below:

Elder abuse is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. It can be of various forms: physical, psychological/ emotional, sexual, financial or simply reflect intentional or unintentional neglect … Elder abuse is a violation of human rights and a significant cause of injury, illness, lost productivity, isolation and despair

The World Health Organisation

There are various forms of elder abuse:

Financial abuse

This is the illegal, unauthorised, or improper use of an older individual’s resources, whether that be money or other assets, belongings or property.  Financial abuse is commonly committed by someone who is trusted by the older adult.

Sexual abuse

This type of abuse includes any unwanted or forced sexual interaction. It is also considered to be sexual abuse if sexual interaction occurs in cases where the older adult has dementia or another disability that inhibits their ability to give proper consent.

Emotional or psychological abuse

This form of abuse occurs when someone intentionally causes an older person to feel distressed, fearful, scared, or any other form of mental pain. This can be done by terrorising, isolation, intimidation, humiliation, insults, threats and other similar behaviour.

Physical abuse

This is the intentional use of physical force to cause the pain, harm, injury and even death of an older person.

Social abuse

Social abuse is present when the older person is prevented from seeing their family and friends. This often cooccurs with emotional abuse, with the abuser manipulating the older person into believing false ideas about their friends and family.

Neglect/Abandonment

This is considered abuse when a caregiver refuses to care for or protect an older person. If harm is caused because a carer lacks regard for their care recipient, or purposely chooses not to give care and meet needs, it is a form of abuse.

How do I recognise abuse? What are the common signs?

  • Becoming withdrawn or isolated
  • Physical harm: bruising, limping, flinching, hair loss, loose/lost teeth, self-care wounds
  • Panic attacks, general stress, depression, mood swings
  • Unclear explanations of injuries or financial decisions
  • Lack of knowledge of their own financials
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Refusal or reluctance to make eye contact
  • A pattern of missing belongings, or financial losses

What is currently being done to prevent the abuse of older Australians?

The Australian Government have committed a total of 37 million dollars towards the research, planning and prevention of abuse towards older adults.

This funding is going towards two main projects: The National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians, and the More Choices for a Longer Life package.

The aim of these projects is to increase specialist front-line services to support older people and their families seeking help, undertake key research activities to uncover and understand abuse, provide family counselling and mediation services, as well as support activities that tackle ageism.

How to find help

If you suspect that someone is being abused, it is important that you seek help. The person themselves may not have the strength, awareness or the knowledge to do so themselves. It’s not uncommon that older persons who are being abused have cognitive conditions such as dementia and therefore their ability to recognise or remember abuse is severely compromised. In cases such as this, they will most certainly need someone to advocate for them.

Is it an emergency?
If you feel that the situation is an emergency, call 000.

If it is not an immediate emergency, there are many places you can go to for help. You may be able to do so anonymously if you wish, particularly if you feel that seeking help and speaking out will put you at risk.

Elder Abuse Hotline

Call 1800 44 11 69

Elder Abuse Helpline

Call 1300 651 192 or 1800 Elder Help (1800 353 374)

State and territory-based support services for the abuse of older adults can be found here.

Do you need Home Care?

Seeking alternate arrangements for your care at home may help to break a pattern, or allow you to be well taken care of. If you are looking for advice on your Home Care options, or if you’re looking to find a Home Care provider, speak with one of CareAbout’s experts Advisers.