Elder abuse is defined as “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”. Unfortunately, elder abuse is more common than many realise, with over 39 per cent of aged care residents having been abused, according to the royal commission last year.

What are the warning signs of elder abuse? 

The warning signs of elder abuse can be easily missed and attributed to other ‘things’ such as poor physical health, cognitive and psychological issues, accidental self-harm, or beliefs that the older person is simply not coping or managing well.

What are the signs of elder abuse? 

Some signs of abuse may include an older person seeming fearful, anxious, or isolated. There may be injuries or an absence of personal care. Unexplained changes to legal documents or finances are also a point of concern. These behaviours are usually a significant change from one’s normal behaviours or functioning.

Has COVID affected elders being abused? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on older people. Beyond its immediate health impact, the pandemic is putting older people at greater risk of experiencing elder abuse. Some of the risk factors for elder abuse that have increased during the pandemic include increased social isolation, deteriorating health due to lack of access to primary health care (increasing their vulnerability to other persons taking advantage of them), increased homelessness resulting in insecure accommodation, and increased substance use and gambling.

How to reduce the likelihood of elder abuse? 

  • Preparation: Older people can reduce the risk of elder abuse by making sure their financial, medical, legal and other affairs are in order. They must also be empowered to recognise the signs of elder abuse and encouraged to seek help.
  • Education: It is important to educate yourself on what elder abuse is so you can identify abuse. Remain observant and aware of the indicators or abuse.
  • Stay connected: Check-in often on older adults who may have few friends or family members in your neighbourhood and/or community groups.
  • Support: Encourage and assist persons having problems with drug and alcohol abuse to get help.
  • Awareness: Recognise the contribution of an older adult in your family or community by celebrating their achievements, strengths and worth. This is a small act for many but has lasting effects on the elderly.

What is being done on a government level to support elders? 

The Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) is a new initiative introduced to help prevent and reduce the incidents of abuse and neglect in residential aged care services and is subsidised by the Australian Government. The SIRS sets new processes for approved providers of residential aged care to manage and take reasonable action to prevent incidents with a focus on the safety, health, well-being, and quality of life of aged care consumers.

If you or anyone you know are currently feeling threatened or unsafe, call 000. The police can remove an abusive person from a situation or support someone to reach safety. If the situation is non-urgent, the Elder Abuse Helpline is available for support, referral, and information. Free assistance is available to anyone who experiences, witnesses or suspects the abuse of an older person. Call the Helpline on 1300 651 192 or 1800 Elder Help (1800 353 374).

Please see state/ territory specific elder abuse support networks below.

New South Wales: NSW Elder Abuse Helpline and Resource Unit

ACT: Older Persons ACT Legal Service (OPALS)

Victoria: Seniors Rights Victoria

South Australia: Aged Rights Advocacy Service

Western Australia: Advocare

Tasmania: Tasmanian Elder Abuse Helpline

NT: Darwin Community Legal Service (DCLS)

For more information about WEAAD, visit https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/world-elder-abuse-awareness-day.html