Elder abuse – the abuse and neglect of older people – is increasingly reported. Some stories in the media reveal shocking problems in residential aged care. 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 World Health Organization Elder Abuse Fact Sheet from January 2018 estimates one in six older people have experienced abuse in the past year.
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 have given us a rich qualitative 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.
It should be noted there is a broad range of conduct that amounts to mistreatment of older people including social, financial, psychological, emotional, physical and sexual misconduct. The financial exploitation of older people is the most common 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 older people being coerced into gifting large amounts of money or selling their home. Psychological and emotional abuse are common and often occur concurrently as an enabler and sustainer of financial abuse.