Elder abuse can take many different forms. The most common forms of elder abuse are financial abuse and neglect.
Physical abuse describes any deliberate act that causes pain for, injury to, or intimidation of, an older person. This includes all forms of physical assault, along with the use of restraint by physical or chemical methods.
Psychological or emotional abuse involves any action or threat that causes fear of violence, isolation, deprivation, humiliation or powerlessness.
For example, treating the person like a child, preventing access to services, making threats (such as preventing them from seeing loved ones) or telling them they have dementia.
Social abuse is forced isolation that prevents or restricts the older person’s contact with friends, family or the community.
This could involve withholding or controlling mail or phone calls, preventing them from attending religious or cultural events, or taking over their home without consent. Social isolation often allows other forms of abuse to take place.
This is the illegal, mismanagement or improper use of the older person’s finances.
This includes stealing money or possessions, controlling their finances without permission, threats or coercion to gain Power of Attorney or pressuring them for early inheritances.
Any sexual contact, language or display of pornography without the older person’s consent, or through coercion.
For example, making obscene phone calls in the person’s presence, inappropriate handling when undertaking personal care activities, or making the person perform a sexual act they don’t want to.
Neglect involves the failure of a carer to provide basic necessities such as food, shelter, or medical care, or preventing someone else from providing them.
Age discrimination, or an estranged relationship with a relative are not examples of elder abuse.
Elder abuse is also not a crime committed by a stranger. It does not involve self-neglect or self-mistreatment – rather, the abuse happens at the hands of a trusted person.
While elder abuse is now receiving increased attention and research, there are no easy solutions to identify and address this heartbreaking problem.
Some of the possible risk factors for elder abuse include situations where:
The first priority is your safety. If you feel threatened or unsafe, call 000. The police can assist you in removing an abusive person from your home, or help you to find safe accommodation.
If you decide to stay in the situation, having a safety plan can help you know what to do in an emergency. Organisations in the Where to get help section below can help you with this.
Finding someone to talk to and share your concerns with can be very helpful. This could be a trusted friend, family member or a trained person from a professional organisation.
If someone close to you is placing unwelcome restrictions on you, is emotionally mistreating you, or taking advantage of you financially, you may want to try to resolve things with them informally. Mediation services such as those provided by Relationships Australia Victoria could help to improve your situation. See Where to get help for more details.
You may be protective of the person mistreating or exploiting you, particularly if they are your adult children. It is important to remember that you have a right to feel comfortable and safe, and that people, including adult children, can get help for their problems. They may not be aware of the impact of their behaviour.
Elder abuse is distressing, and finding someone who understands the sensitive and confidential nature of the issue can help you in deciding what to do if you suspect an older person is being mistreated or exploited.
The following organisations provide information and support for older people and concerned family and friends.