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Elder abuse - abuse of older people

Elder abuse has been defined by the World Health Organisation 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’.

Abuse of older people can take various forms, including: financial, physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse, or neglect. No older person should be subjected to any form of abuse.

What is elder abuse?

Abuse of older people is any act that causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust, usually a family member or carer. The abuse may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual and can include mistreatment and neglect.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing elder abuse call our team on 02 9281 3600


Different types of abuse include:

  • physical abuse – such as kicking, hitting, locking in a room, use of restraints
  • emotional or psychological abuse – such as pressuring, intimidating, bullying, name-calling, degrading, humiliating
  • sexual abuse – forcing the older person to engage in unwanted sexual behaviours or viewing obscene videos in the presence of an older person without their consent
  • neglect – failure to provide necessities such as adequate food, accommodation or medication
  • social abuse – preventing contact with family and friends and involvement in social activities; restricting movement in the home
  • chemical abuse – including inappropriate use, underuse or overuse, of prescribed medication
  • financial abuse – taking advantage of powers of attorney, stealing the older person’s money, forcing them to transfer property titles, or preventing them from accessing their own money.

Financial abuse

Our ‘Money Matters’ campaign addresses financial abuse of older people, produced in four community languages (Hindi, Arabic, Mandarin and Cantonese) as well as English.

The radio campaign was made possible by a generous grant from the Ecstra Foundation.

A portion of the video campaign was made possible by funding from Multicultural NSW, NSW Government.

Stealing Money – audio – English

Gifting Money – audio – English

Sharing Pin – audio – English

The Loan – Arabic

I Can Decide – Chinese

A New Life Down Under – Hindi

The Granny Flat – Hindi


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.

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.

Abuse and neglect in aged care facilities

Older people are also at risk of abuse or neglect in institutions such as residential aged care or assisted living facilities. This form of abuse falls under the Aged Care Act 1997 (Commonwealth). If you are concerned someone who is living in an aged care facility may be experiencing abuse or neglect, contact the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner  1800 951 822 or Seniors Rights Service.

People experiencing elder abuse do not always seek help

Some people experiencing elder abuse may not seek help because of:

  • feelings of guilt and shame
  • fear of retaliation
  • fear of damaging family relationships
  • a belief that aggression and violence is a normal part of family life
  • fear that seeking help will lead to living in an institution
  • lack of physical or mental capacity because of disability
  • lack of knowledge about available sources of help

If you are unsure about asking for help, remember, it is your right to feel safe. No person should be subjected to any form of abuse, mistreatment or neglect. Elder abuse is a form of violence, and it is unacceptable.

Signs of elder abuse

Signs that an older person may be abused include:

  • malnutrition and dehydration
  • poor personal hygiene or dirty clothes
  • untreated medical problems
  • fear, depression or low mood, confusion, feeling of helplessness
  • unexplained and frequent injuries such as black eyes and broken bones
  • unexplained sexually transmitted infections
  • missing belongings
  • not having money for basics such as food, clothing, transport costs and bills

Elder abuse and CARM communities

Elder abuse can affect people from all cultural backgrounds. While there is no evidence to suggest that there is a higher prevalence of elder abuse in culturally and racially marginalised communities, it may be more hidden due to shame and stigma, added language barriers, or lack of awareness about elder abuse and the options available to people experiencing it.

Elder abuse and First Nation Peoples

Indigenous Australians aged 50 years and over are considered to be older. This is reflective of Indigenous Australians lower life expectancies. In the context of Indigenous Australian culture, the term ‘older people,’ ‘elder’ and ‘Elder’ are used. ‘Elders’, with a capital ‘E’, are recognised community representatives and custodians of culture, history, the Dreaming and storylines.

Elder abuse takes different forms across Indigenous Australian communities. Living in a discrete rural community means many people know each other’s business. This includes family and community tensions that exist in the everyday life of that community. Elder abuse raises fear and concerns of being judged as an inadequate parent or grandparent by others. Family obligation in Indigenous Australian cultures is very important and may have both positive and negative effects on the outcome of an intervention taking place.

Indigenous Australians accustomed to living in rural communities, may feel more isolated and challenged in seeking help when living in metropolitan environments. Lack of family support and community connection living in metropolitan regions means abuse can go unnoticed and people may be unaware of how or where to access services.

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