July 19, 2023
Crime Prevention
Understanding elder abuse and how to help

Understanding elder abuse and how to help

Elder abuse isn't always easy to spot but knowing what to look for can make a difference. Whether it's for ourselves or someone we care about, understanding the signs and where to get help is crucial.

About 4-6% of older Australians experience elder abuse and with our ageing population, even more people will be affected in the future.

Any older person can experience elder abuse – it happens to men and women from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and lifestyles.

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness, especially as we grow older. So, let's explore what elder abuse is, how we can spot it, and what to do if it's happening.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is when someone harms or takes advantage of an older person – usually someone they know and trust, like a family member, carer, friend or neighbour. Around two thirds of abusers are an adult child. 

Elder abuse comes in many forms - it’s not just about physical injury; it can be include emotional harm, verbal harassment, financial loss, loss of a home or belongings or even neglect. 

Types of elder abuse

  • Physical abuse: When someone hurts an older person by hitting, pushing, punching, slapping, kicking or restraining them.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: This is when someone threats, humiliates, harasses or updsets an older person, making them feel distressed, powerless, ashamed or distressed. This abuse is often harder to see.
  • Financial abuse: When someone takes or misuses an older person's money, property or other assets illegally, improperly or secretly. It also includes forcing an older person to change their will or sign documents.
  • Neglect: When someone intentionally doesn't take care of an older person's basic needs, like food, medicine or warmth.
  • Social abuse: When someone isolates an older person by restrict access to family, friends, carers or services. 
  • Sexual abuse: Any sexual activity or contact with an older person that is unwanted or done without their consent. It can take make forms, including viewing sexually explicit materials in front of the older person, sexual assault, or not giving them privacy when they shower.

How to spot elder abuse

Elder abuse is often hidden and can be difficult to spot. An older person may not even realise what’s happening to them is abuse. 

It's essential to trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it might not be.

Here are some signs that can help us know if someone might be experiencing elder abuse. They may:

  • Have unexplained bruises, scratches, burns or injuries.
  • Seem scared or anxious near certain people.
  • Not have enough money for basics such as food, clothing, transport and bills.
  • Lose money or belongings without a clear reason.
  • Large withdrawals or sudden changes in banking habits.
  • Become withdrawn, quiet or distant.
  • Lose their self-esteem
  • Not have enough food, clothing or medicine.
  • Have lost a lot of weight or often hungry and thirsty
  • Live in an environment that is dirty or unsafe.
  • Have unexplained conditions such as dehydration or hypothermia or be wearing the wrong clothing for the weather conditions.
  • Torn or bloody underclothing or bedding.

What to do if you think you're experiencing elder abuse

If you are and older person and think you're experiencing abuse or you're worried about someone you know:

  • Speak up: Talk to someone you trust about it, your GP, a family member, a care provider 
  • Stay safe: If it’s an emergency or you're in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000)
  • Document everything: Keep track of things that seem wrong. This can help if you need to show someone later.
  • Ask for help: There are services that can support you, such as Seniors Rights Victoria

If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, don't hesitate. Reach out for support.

Getting help in Victoria

Getting help in Victoria

Seniors Rights Victoria provides free information and referrals, legal advice and legal casework on matters specifically relating to any Victorian aged 60 or over, or to any Indigenous Victoria aged 45 and over. 

Visit the Senior Rights Victoria website for information, tip sheets and contacts for useful services or call their confidential helpline on 1300 368 821, (Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm). They'll listen, give advice, and can guide you on what to do next.

Get Police Assistance

For all emergencies and immediate Police assistance
Call: 000
To report non-urgent crimes or events 24 hours a day
Call: 131 444
To report information about a crime contact Crime Stoppers on
1800 333 000

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Neighbourhood Watch Victoria acknowledges the 38 mobs, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live, and gather as employees and volunteers. We recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

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