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About Elder Abuse

Whether inside the home or out, within families or among the wider community, elder abuse is a scourge on our society. Find out more about what constitutes elder abuse and the ways in which it manifests.

About Elder Abuse

Whether inside the home or out, within families or among the wider community, elder abuse is a scourge on our society. Find out more about what constitutes elder abuse and the ways in which it manifests.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines elder abuse 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.

In Australia, elder abuse is increasingly reported. For example, the Royal Commission into Aged Care, Quality and Safety revealed shocking problems in residential aged care.

However, abuse also occurs outside institutional settings, including being perpetrated by family members or someone who is trusted by the older person. It is the private nature of the abuse that makes it difficult to know how often and to whom it is happening.

The abuse of older people occurs in all cultures and across all levels of society. The WHO Elder Abuse Fact Sheet estimates one in six older people have experienced abuse in the past year.

How elder abuse manifests

There is a wide range of conduct that amounts to abuse of elderly people.

Financial exploitation is the most common abuse reported to support organisations and other institutions. It ranges from the theft of small amounts of money, which, while low in value, have a significant impact on those living on low incomes, to coercion into gifting large sums or selling a home.

Psychological and emotional abuse are common and often occur concurrently as an enabler and sustainer of financial abuse.

Developing a response

Many older people and their supporters have shared their lived experience of abuse. Services supporting older people have also helped to bring its prevalence and impact to the fore.

Together, these perspectives give us a rich understanding of the complex and evolving nature of abuse. Despite these reports, Australia does not yet have a rigorous national estimate of the prevalence of elder abuse.

Further reading

To find out more about elder abuse, visit Compass, EAAA’s online hub of information about elder abuse.

Everyone has a role to play in protecting the rights of older people

Types of Elder Abuse

There is a broad range of conduct that amounts to mistreatment of older people. This includes social, financial, psychological, emotional, physical and sexual misconduct

The National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians (2019-2023) lists five commonly recognised forms of abuse of older people: financial, emotional/psychological, physical, sexual or neglect. Drilling down further, abuse can be:

  • a combination of the different types of abuse
  • intentional or unintentional
  • occurring once or many times
  • carried out by someone known to the older person, such as a family member, friend, professional or paid caregiver.

Financial abuse

The theft or misuse of an older person’s money, assets or property.

Emotional or psychological abuse

Any act that causes emotional pain, anguish or distress, or is demeaning to an individual.

Physical abuse

An act that causes physical pain, injury or a combination of both. Physical abuse may appear as a change in appearance, attitude or behaviour.

Sexual abuse

Any behaviour of a sexual nature, done to an older person without their consent. This includes physical interactions and non-contact acts of a sexual nature.

Neglect

The failure to meet an older person’s basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, warmth or essential medical care.

While elder abuse affects all genders across all walks of life, abuse disproportionately affects women. Often, more than one type of abuse can be used. Some forms of abuse, such as sexual abuse, are criminal acts.

To find out more about the different types of elder abuse, visit Compass, EAAA’s online hub of information about elder abuse.

Ageism

According to the WHO, ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.

Ageism is gaining recognition for the detrimental impact it has on people young and old, and the UN has launched a global report on ageism.

In Australia, the Benevolent Society’s EveryAGE Counts advocacy campaign recognises that ageism is not benign or harmless, because it impacts confidence, quality of life, job prospects, health and control over life decisions.

Ageism has serious and wide-ranging consequences for people’s health and wellbeing. Among older people, ageism is associated with poorer physical and mental health, increased social isolation and loneliness, greater financial insecurity, decreased quality of life and premature death.

It is impossible to address elder abuse without addressing ageism. EAAA encourages you to visit the EveryAGE Counts campaign website to take the ‘Am I ageist’ quiz and pledge to stand for a world without ageism.

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