Family Forum: Abuse of older people

Getting clear about elder abuse


Is elder abuse typically carried out by someone close to the elder person, with whom they have a relationship implying trust, including family members or friends?


The definition of elder abuse changes across countries and legal frameworks, however what constitutes elder abuse is quite universal. Elder abuse can be physical, financial, sexual, neglect, emotional or psychological, through the abuse of power and control.

You are correct it in identifying that like other types of abuse in our community, 94% of elder abuse is typically perpetrated by someone close to the person, a close friend or family member who has access to that person regularly and is in a position of power. This may be a person who is responsible for caring for them, or it may be a person who is trusted and can easily influence the elder person.

The signs of abuse are similar across the abuse spectrum, the elder person may be experiencing fear of usually benign things, and they may be confused about decisions they have made, when they normally would be very cognisant. They may become withdrawn or you may notice that, dependant on their level of need their personal wellbeing may be in decline, they may be losing weight, their appearance and self-care may be in decline or they cannot support themselves financially where they were able to manage this well previously.

Due to the abuse being from someone they trust, disclosure rates are reduced because of the shame, stigma and grief and guilt. Cognitive decline also reduces the disclosure rates and also adds to the confusion.

If you are concerned about someone in your life suffering from elder abuse, it is important to talk to someone about it. Depending on your position in their life, you could speak to the elder person directly or a family member about your concerns, their medical or allied health professionals, or if you are distanced from the elder person you could ring an organisation such as OPAN (Older Persons Advocacy Network, on 1800 700 600, or the SA Elder Abuse Prevention Hotline on 1800 372 310, which is run by SA Health, or visit the website here. Two other important and helpful organisations are the Aged Rights Advocacy Service and the Adult Safeguard Unit. Please find their contacts below. Of course, if you had an immediate concern about their wellbeing you should call 000 to get immediate police support for the individual.

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