Settlement Guide: What is elder abuse? How to recognise and prevent it

Often when family relationships break down elder abuse can arise. It’s important that you do something about it if you think you or someone you know are the victim of it.

Elderly woman with dementia

Source: Pexels

For older people who might have originally come to Australia as migrants, there are additional barriers to seeking help, like social isolation, or lack of language skills when it comes to reporting abuse. However, resources are available to assist migrant communities.

What is elder abuse?

The World Health Organisation defines Elder Abuse as any single or repeated act, or lack of action in a relationship "where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person."

Aged care
Source: Department of health

Elder abuse affects up to 10 per cent of the worldwide population but most cases go unreported.
In 90 per cent of elder abuse cases, the perpetrator is a family member. “Overwhelmingly, the experience at both Advocare and through research shows that sons and daughters are the most likely abusers of older people.” – CEO Advocare, Greg Mahney. 

Older people who have limited English language skills or literacy are often prone to elder abuse by their family or friends.

What are the signs?

Source: Pexels

Older people who have limited English language skills or literacy are often prone to elder abuse by their family or friends.

And recognising elder abuse can sometimes be difficult. The abuse may be subtle or intentionally hidden and the older person may be reluctant to discuss the issue.  For example, an elderly person without a lack of community network might rely on one or two family members, who can take advantage of them. 

“It's very easy for those people to get the elderly person to sign something that they didn't understand what they are signing.” - Aged Care Manager, Alexander Abramoff. 

The most common form of elder abuse is financial

Elder abuse doesn’t only mean forms of physical abuse – it also covers psychological abuse, economic abuse and neglect.

The most common is financial abuse. It can be stealing money from an older person, forcing them to change their will or forging their signature on a bank document.

Credit Cards
Source: Pixabay

Some people use a Power of Attorney to abuse older people – taking over the management of their financial and legal affairs.

“Language abilities limit the network of older migrants and also limits their understanding of financial or legal decisions.” - Aged Care Manager, Alexander Abramoff. 


How to get assistance?

Elder Abuse prevention and support
Source: NSW Elder Abuse prevention

There are no mandatory reporting laws for elder abuse in any Australian state or territory.

However, each state or territory has an organisation supporting victims of elder abuse. If you or someone you know may be suffering from elder abuse, assistance is available.

Find your state's helpline at the .  

If you or someone you know may be suffering from elder abuse, assistance is available.
But reporting abuse is harder if the victim doesn't speak much English. If you speak a language other than English, contact the National Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 13 14 50. And if you can't call the helpline, there are other people whom you can confide in like your GP, a faith leader or even a friend you trust.

Raising Awareness

Free from abuse
Source: NSW Elder Abuse prevention

The UN supports the principles of independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity for older persons. Its General Assembly designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

to oppose the abuse inflicted on older people, most commonly by their families. This year’s theme is ‘We Can Stop Elder Abuse’. You can get involved by participating in a community event or by organising your own event.  For example, you could wear purple on the day, plant a tree, organise a morning tea or plan a walk to raise awareness!

Find out more: 

Find information in your language:

Useful links and phone numbers

Helpline: 1300 368 821

Helpline: 1800 628 221

Western Australia: 
Helpline: 1300 724 679 (Perth)

1800 655 566 (rural)

Helpline: 02 6205 3535

Northern Territory: 
Helpline: 131 444

Helpline: 1300 651 192

South Australia: 
Helpline: 08 8232 5377 (Adelaide)

1800 700 600 (rural)

Helpline: 1800 441 169


4 min read
Published 8 June 2017 at 11:28am
By Ildiko Dauda