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The complex and often hidden abuse of our elders

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When someone speaks of elder abuse what do you think?

When I first heard the term ‘elder abuse’ I thought it would be primarily physical abuse in a residential care setting. But elder abuse is so much more and can take many forms. It can be financial, where the family disregard the financial views and wishes of their elders; or emotional, where an elder is threatened or belittled. It can be neglect, and yes, it can also be physical and sexual abuse. And the abuse can happen in any setting, including a person’s own home or senior living community.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is recognised in June every year. This year it is on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

Elder abuse is usually perpetrated by someone the victim knows and trusts. Unfortunately, family members are often the perpetrators.

Most distressingly, studies have shown that 60 per cent of abusers are family members. Family is often bestowed with the most trust and may not always have their elder’s best interest at heart.

The number one risk factor for elder abuse is vulnerability.

Older people are susceptible to the abusive behaviours of people who hold negative views toward elders, or see elders as an easy target for manipulation or deception. Older people can be vulnerable, especially those who are ill, fragile, confused, or unable to speak up for themselves or keep an eye on their personal affairs. Some examples of prominent risk factors for elder abuse and neglect include dementia and cognitive impairments, transgenerational violence, personal and financial problems of the abuser, and environmental conditions.

People with diverse genders, sexualities and relationships may be more vulnerable to having their views and wishes disregarded by a relative or carer. This illustrates the importance of ensuring there is a strong and consistent voice for elders, and increased awareness of, and access to, supportive documentation and policies such as a Will, Power of Attorney, Enduring Guardianship and an Advanced Health Care Directive.

The consequences of elder abuse are grave, According to Seniors Rights Australia, older adults who are abused are twice as likely to be hospitalised and four times more likely to go residential aged care.

We have an ageing population; elder abuse is a complex problem and the extent of elder abuse if largely unknown.

I know this doesn’t sit easily and is difficult to think about. So, what can you do to help address this?

  • Educate yourself on some of the common signs of elder abuse. For example, injuries, rapid weight loss, medication being withheld, medication being used inappropriately, unattended medical issues and importantly, changes in behaviour such as withdrawing, a change in cognitive ability, alertness, or depression.
  • Have a conversation. Listen and encourage sharing. Take some time and engage in a way that makes the elder feel comfortable. Remember, some people may feel ashamed\ or afraid, may not recognise what they are experiencing is abuse, or may deny the abuse is occurring to protect an abusing family member.
  • Reach out for support to further your education and awareness. There are many organisation and advocacy groups who can support you in identifying signs and having the initial conversation with the older person. I have listed some of these organisations below.
  • If you work in retail, at the local shopping centre, at the bank, at the butcher shop, a hairdresser, the pharmacy; look out for the signs, have a conversation, and know where to go to support.

Stopping elder abuse is everyone’s responsibility. Let’s take care of our most vulnerable community members, our elders, our friends of age, and ourselves.


This year ADACAS and Meridian have developed a local campaign for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day including radio advertising, social media and hosting stalls at Woden and Belconnen shopping centres with information about how to seek support if you are an older person experiencing or at risk of Elder Abuse or know someone who is.

ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service – ADACAS

ADACAS is an independent not for profit advocacy organisation. ADACAS promote and protect the rights of people with disability, people experiencing mental ill-health, older people and their carers.


Meridian is a specialist organising support people with diverse genders, sexualities and relationships.  Meridian provides a range of aged care services and supports including – Silver Rainbow Training [TM]  for aged care providers, aged care navigation and community visiting.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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