The overlooked tragedy happening in our community

We’ve worked our whole lives to enjoy our money and relax when we retire, but what is it about a pensioner that makes them such an easy target for crime? Not all of us are frail or rich, yet elder abuse is soaring in this country.

Just yesterday, an 86-year-old man was robbed and bashed as he withdrew money from an ATM in Bankstown, NSW. The victim, Frank Carlino, said he felt numb after the attack that left him bruised and with missing teeth. Thankfully, the three abusers were later caught by police. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident and there are many cases of crimes against seniors every year, an overlooked tragedy in our neighbourhoods. There seems to be an assumption that the older you are, the more money you have, yet Frank Carlino was withdrawing his full pension to live on and, as so many of us know, it is not much.

Stealing from seniors and pensioners is not new and is a type of elder abuse. Elder abuse is physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse and can also be related to neglect as well. Random attacks might not be able to be helped but you can advise a friend or family member to conceal their money and not withdraw large amounts when alone. It can occur within the trusted confines of family, friends, care facilities and neighbourhood, and could be happening right under your nose to someone you know – one in 10 of us will suffer from it in some way.

According to Marilyn Crabtree from SA’s Aged Rights Advocacy, says “It’s an exploitation of the older person’s rights. And financial abuse would have to be one of the most commonly reported forms of abuse that we see, and usually psychological abuse would go along with that because people intimidate you; they don’t just ask nicely ‘can you please give me a cheque for $10,000?’: they intimidate you into giving them the money”.

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There are organisations who can provide information and support for victims and families of elder abuse around the country, but what are the warning signs and how can you help someone who is suffering?


Behavioural signs

Sometimes you may be able to tell there is something wrong without the person having to say it – their behaviour has changed and you’re worried. If you notice a sudden or unusual behavioural pattern in your friend or family member, it’s time to get them help and offer support.

Behavioural signs that a senior may be being abused:

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  • Afraid of people
  • Irritable or easily upset
  • Depressed or withdrawn
  • Lack of interest
  • Changing sleep patterns
  • Changing eating habits
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Attacks of shaking, trembling or crying
  • Rigid posture
  • Presenting as helpless, hopeless or sad
  • Contradictory statements not from mental confusion
  • Reluctance to talk openly
  • Avoiding contact – eye, physical or other
  • Waiting for another person to answer
  • Worried or anxious for no obvious reason
  • Any radical change in a person’s behaviour


Types of elder abuse and signs


  • Losing money, jewellery, silverware, paintings or furniture with no explanation
  • Forced to change Will or a legal document to include abuser
  • Denial of access to own funds
  • Forging of signatures
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  • Verbal intimidation i.e. being forced into making decisions against own will
  • Humiliation and harassment – being called names or experiencing behaviours that are degrading, in a public or private place
  • Shouting
  • Threats of physical Harm
  • Threats of institutionalisation – “Do what I say or I’ll put you in a home”
  • Withholding of affection – refusing to give access to grandchildren


  • Cut off from the support of friends or family members
  • Not allowed to use the telephone or having calls monitored
  • Not allowed to socialise or meet neighbours
  • Being told by abuser that friends or family are “interfering”


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  • Being hit, slapped, pushed, punched, kicked, beaten, bitten, scratched, shook, dragged or burnt
  • Physical restraint such as being tied or secured to a chair or being locked in a room


  • Rape – sexual intercourse without consent
  • Indecent assault – inappropriate sexual handling and touching
  • Sexual harassment – inappropriate comments and labelling about general appearance, attitude and behaviour
  • Any behaviour that makes an older person feel uncomfortable about their body or gender


  • Inadequate food and drink
  • Isolation, lack of mental, physical, social or cultural contact/stimulation
  • Inadequate supervision or left unattended for long periods or locked in the house without any supervision
  • Inadequate or inappropriate use of medication
  • Unmet physical needs such as decaying teeth or overgrown nails
  • Clothing may be in poor repair or inadequate for the season
  • Poor hygiene or inadequate skin care
  • Urine rash with abrasions and chafing
  • Pressure areas over the pelvis, hips, heels or elbows
  • Hypothermia, recent colds, bronchitis or pneumonia
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Get help for someone you suspect is being elder abused

Crisis or respite care 

Community support services – i.e. home nursing, housekeeping and other assistance. See more information here for services in your state.

Counselling – i.e. individual or family

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Alternative accommodation 

Legal interventions i.e. lay criminal charges in cases of financial abuse or severe physical abuse (particularly where there is a history of domestic violence).


Do you know anyone who has been abused in any of these ways in their 60s? Do you feel that it is a large issue in our community? Is enough being done? Tell us your thoughts and stories below.