World elder abuse day was June 15th, the main day in the year when the world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted on older people.
Your partner, your friend, your parent, or family member may be a victim to elder abuse, which can come in many forms and be hard to spot. By learning about all the signs of elder abuse, it can be better identified and therefore you can better protect your loved ones.
Research from Australia and overseas shows that up to 14 per cent of older people may be experiencing elder abuse. The real number may be higher because many people feel they cannot speak up.
What is elder abuse?
Elder abuse occurs when a person in a position of power harms, , exploits, harms or mistreats an older person. This can be one-off abuse or ongoing. Usually carried out by someone they know and trust such as a family member or friend, elder abuse can be a form of family violence. There are many different types of elder abuse, including:
- Physical abuse – a deliberate act that causes pain, injury, or intimidation such as kicking, hitting, locking in a room and use of
- Emotional / psychological abuse – an intentional threat or action that causes fear, pressuring, intimidating, deprivation, humiliation or bullying.
- Sexual abuse – any sexual interaction that occurs without consent or through coercion. Can also include viewing obscene videos in the presence of an older person without their consent.
- Neglect – failure to provide necessities such as adequate food, shelter, medication/medical care or preventing someone else from providing this.
- Social abuse – isolation such as preventing contact with family and friends and restricting social activities and people visiting the home.
- Financial abuse – the improper use of an older person’s finances, by stealing money or possessions, forcing them to transfer property titles, or preventing them from accessing their own money.
The abuse can be broad, as can the symptoms. Evidence suggests the most common forms of abuse are financial and emotional, with women being two to three times more likely to experience abuse than men.
Abuse warning signs
The most common warning signs are strange and sudden changes to an elderly person’s physical, mental, or financial well-being. More specific signs of elder abuse will depend on the type of abuse that is affecting the victim. The signs and symptoms of elder abuse can include:
- Injuries such as bruises, cuts, or broken bones.
- Malnourishment or weight loss.
- Poor hygiene and dirty clothes.
- Untreated medical problems.
- Symptoms of anxiety, depression, fear or confusion.
- Low self-esteem.
- Unexplained financial transactions or loss of money.
- Unexpected and sudden changes in financial status.
- Becoming withdrawn, forgetful, or evasive.
- Withdrawal from family members or friends.
- Unexplained sexually transmitted infections.
- Increased hospitalisations.
- A carer or family member argue with, belittle or punish someone.
Risk factors for elder abuse
While any older person can suffer from elder abuse, some run a greater risk of abuse or neglect than others. These risk factors include:
- Adults over the age of 80 are more likely to suffer from elder abuse.
- A caregiver who lives with the elder, depends on them for financial support, abuses drugs, or has a criminal background may be more likely to commit abuse.
- Women are more likely to suffer from elder abuse.
- Those with poor physical health and mental health issues such as dementia.
- Elderly who live by themselves or who are withdrawn may be at risk of abuse.
The risk factors for elder abuse can also depend on the carer or family member that may:
- Find it stressful looking after the older person.
- Resent having to look after the older person.
- Be experiencing other types of stress, such as financial troubles.
- Not have enough support or respite.
- Have a history of family violence within the family.
- Have different cultural values to the older person.
- Have been inflicted abuse as a child by the older person.
- Have a mental health condition.
How to prevent elder abuse
Elder maltreatment can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences, so it’s imperative to prevent it as much as possible. It can be hard for an older person to challenge the decisions and behaviours of their carer. However, it is important that older people have support and can talk to someone they know and trust. It is also important that they can seek independent legal and financial advice, particularly before signing legal documents such as contracts, so that they can make confident, informed decisions.
To make sure that your elderly loved one is given these rights and protected from elder abuse can be difficult if they don’t tell you. Some of the best things you can do include:
- Be aware of the warning signs of elder abuse.
- Know the risk factors of elder abuse.
- If you have access, check your elderly person’s financial records regularly.
- Look for physical symptoms.
- Keep a close watch on the elderly person(s) under the care of someone else.
- Keep an eye on those providing care to the elderly person, as sometimes, the first signs of elder abuse stem from caregivers.
- Look out for behaviour changes in both the older person and the carer.
- Ensure regular contact and access to the older person.
- Offer support and a trusted ear to the older person.
- Keep the lines of communication open with the carer.
- Make sure the carer has a good support system and regular respite.
- Always record and report any elder abuse signs to local authorities as soon as possible.
Where to go for help
Never feel ashamed to ask for help for yourself or someone else. If you or someone else is being physically abused, bullied or pressured to do things by someone you/they know; or if someone you/they rely on is neglecting you or someone else, threatening or failing to look after you/them as they promised, let someone know. This could be a trusted neighbour, friend, family member, nurse, or pharmacist.
There are many other places to go for help, information, advice and support. These services can be accessed by phone or specific services within your own State or Territory. They are confidential and staffed by qualified and experienced people:
- Your GP (doctor)
- Police emergency 000 for immediate and life-threatening assistance
- Seniors Rights Victoriahelpline phone: 1300 368 821
- ERA Elder Rights Advocacy phone: 1300 700 600
- Elder Abuse Information Line for the Northern Territoryphone: 1800 037 072
- Catholic Care NT visit website for phone numbers as they vary depending on location.
- NSW Elder Abuse Helpline and Resource Unitphone: 1800 628 221
- Senior Rights Service phone: 02 9281 3600
- Elder Abuse Prevention Unit Queenslandphone: 1300 651 192
- ADA Australia phone: 1800 818 338
- South Australian elder abuse prevention phone line phone: 1800 372 310
- South Australia aged rights advocacy service phone (08) 232 5377 or 1800 700 600.
- Tasmanian Elder Abuse Helplinephone: 1800 441 169 or (03) 6237 0047
- Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse Western Australiaphone: 1300 724 679 or (08) 9479 7566
- ACT Older Persons Abuse Prevention Referral and Information Line (APRIL) phone: 02 6205 3535.
- ADACAS Advocacy Phone: 02 6242 5060
- MyAgedCarefor Australia wide elder abuse phone: 1800 353 374
- National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline phone: 1800 880 052
- 1800 RESPECTNational Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service phone: 1800 737 732
If you, or someone you know, is in an unsafe or life-threatening situation, call the police on triple zero (000).