What is Elder Abuse and How Can We Stop It?

1 in 6 older Australians have experienced elder abuse, often by the people who are closest to them. Read on to learn more.
What is Elder Abuse and How Can We Stop It?

Every year, thousands of older Australians experience elder abuse. This type of abuse can sometimes be difficult to spot because it comes in many forms and isn’t always obvious. Elder abuse is defined as any act which causes harm to an older person – one that is carried out by someone they know and trust, and it ranges from verbal harassment to serious physical injury inflicted deliberately.

The types of elder abuse are as follows:

Elder neglect and self-neglect

This is when a person intentionally fails to provide basic living necessities like food, medication and warmth.

Signs of elder neglect include:

  • Malnutrition or dehydration
  • A lack of food in the residence
  • A lack of medical assistance
  • Poor hygiene 
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Untreated health issues, infections or injuries

Signs of self-neglect include:

  • An inability to eat or drink without help
  • An inability to dress or maintain basic personal hygiene, like showering or brushing teeth
  • An inability to maintain a clean home, manage financial affairs or to independently seek medical assistance or healthcare
  • Compulsive hoarding

How to help

Social support by family, members of the community, and service providers are critical in helping vulnerable adults live healthily and safely.

  • Learn what signs and symptoms to look for
  • Help to reduce isolation as much as possible
  • Community services such as friendly visiting, regular telephone calls, and volunteer driving may help reduce the isolation of a vulnerable adult
  • Stay in contact
  • Help the person review options and make their own choices
  • Help the person accept help from others and get any services they may require

Financial abuse

This is a crime where younger people – typically family members – take advantage of the fragility of an older relative to extract money or some other financial benefit. This is where houses are sold, bank accounts are emptied and prized possessions are stolen. Sometimes, people perpetrating financial elder abuse illegally or improperly force someone to change their Will or sign legal documents.

What to look out for

  • Withdrawals that the older person clearly did not make
  • Name changes to bank accounts, properties and other assets
  • The addition of a signatory
  • When an older person has given away their online logins
  • Changes to Wills, power of attorney or other legal documents without advising a long-term advisor or trusted family member or friend

Physical and sexual abuse

Sadly, physical and sexual abuse is not uncommon. Physical abuse usually results in the visible marking of the body, from the deliberate use of force. This can also be evidenced by frequent hospitalisation for the same issues or unclear explanations from a carer about how an injury came to be.

Elder sexual abuse occurs when a person is forced to undertake any kind of forced non-consensual sexual contact. This can be perusing sexually explicit print or electronic materials in front of the older person, not giving the older person privacy when they bathe or shower, or sexual assault. Interactions with those with dementia can prevent someone from giving or receiving consent, as well.

What to look out for

  • Bruises 
  • Broken bones
  • Visible scrapes
  • Burns

What you can do 

If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, contact the police on 000. They will help navigate the situation and guide you on what steps to take.

Emotional and psychological abuse

Emotional and psychological abuse can take many forms. It might be threats, humiliation or harassment that cause distress and feelings of shame, stress or powerlessness, and it often occurs in combination with other forms of abuse. 

Look out for:

  • Signs of withdrawal, sadness or fear
  • They might avoid people they know, so the abuse will stay hidden
  • Low self-confidence and constantly seeking reassurance
  • Sudden changes to moods and behaviours

Wrap up

It might seem a little extreme to some, but if you believe you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, the best thing to do is contact the police. Sometimes, it might be prudent to seek support from a court or tribunal, especially in cases where bank accounts need to be frozen, in order to recover the elderly person’s stolen funds or property, or to have a contract reversed if an elderly person has been unduly influenced to part ways with their funds.

The most important thing is to open your eyes and recognise the signs and behavioural changes in an older person resulting from elder abuse or neglect. Understand that elder abuse can happen to any older person, and that it’s up to us to improve the lives of our elderly friends and family and to make sure our ageing population are treated with the utmost care, respect and dignity, always.

If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, call 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) for free confidential information and support.

And always, if you or someone you know is in an unsafe situation you should call the police on 000.

These services may also help:

Seniors Rights Victoria

1300 368 821

Free helpline, legal, advocacy and referral service specialising in elder abuse.

Elder Rights Advocacy

1800 700 600

Free service for all Victorians in residential and home care programs providing advocacy, information, support and advice.

Office of the Public Advocate

1300 309 337

For information or assistance regarding Enduring Power of Attorney, Guardianship or Administration matters. 

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as legal, financial, accounting or tax advice.

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