What is abuse of an older person (elder abuse)?

The World Health Organisation defines it 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 includes harm caused by people you trust, such as a spouse, partner or family member, a friend or neighbour, or people you rely on for services. It can be financial, physical, psychological or sexual.

Abuse can often go unnoticed by outsiders and even other family members, especially if you are becoming frail or declining mentally. 

In NSW a free, confidential Elder Abuse Helpline provides information, advice and referral for people who experience, witness or suspect the abuse of older people.

Call the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1800 628 221

Common forms of abuse

Financial abuse

This may take many forms. It includes the abuse of an enduring power of attorney (EPOA) failing to act in your best interest. It could mean the EPOA is using your money for their own benefit.

There may also be theft of your property, where a trusted person uses access to your house, money or bank account in order to steal.

Family members or other trusted people may financially abuse you by pressuring you into giving or guaranteeing a loan or signing over property – without you obtaining independent legal and financial advice.

Financial abuse may also occur if you are pressured into changing your will against your wishes.

Granny flat arrangements can sometimes lead to financial abuse, especially when they are entered into without legal advice and proper documentation.  See below.

Physical abuse

This includes slapping, hitting, pushing or restraining – as well as sexual abuse. Neglect and failure to provide adequate food, clothing or personal care is a form of physical abuse.

Psychological abuse

This often occurs at the same time as physical and/or financial abuse. It includes conduct such as name-calling, threats, intimidation, swearing and shouting or humiliation. It also includes threats that you will be forced into aged care against your will.

Seniors Rights Services was featured on SBS radio talking about Financial Abuse of the elderly. You can hear the interview here.

Granny flat arrangements

A granny flat is where you live in the same house as the owner of the house (this could be, and often is, your adult child). Or you live in a separate dwelling on the same piece of land (owned by the other person). You have contributed financially for the right to live in the granny flat – perhaps given your house.

There are high risks associated with these arrangements since you may have contributed much or all of your money or other assets (sometimes your own home). These risks include that you may be evicted from the home (eg if there is a dispute with your child or child-in-law, or the property is sold because of divorce or business debts). You may also lose some or all of your pension. 

It is important to see a lawyer and put a granny flat arrangement in writing. This helps you avoid many of the risks and pitfalls, especially if later something goes wrong in the relationship, or circumstances and expectations change.

Call Seniors Rights Service for free and confidential legal advice on 1800 424 079