What you can do about elder abuse

Imagine being abused psychologically and financially by the children that you raised. As horrifying as that that idea might seem

Imagine being abused psychologically and financially by the children that you raised. As horrifying as that that idea might seem abuse by adult children towards a parent happens quite regularly. There are fears the situation is getting worse as baby boomers are headed towards older age.

It’s a discussion Starts at 60 wants to maintain, especially following the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) recently released report into elder abuse that looks at who is vulnerable, who is most likely to be carrying out the abuse, and what governments and the broader community can do to prevent it from happening.

When we talk about ‘elder abuse’ there are a range of behaviours that fall in under the category. Put simply by the Elder Abuse Prevent Unit however, it occurs where there is an imbalance of power in the relationships between people, where the dominant person or persons causes harm or distress to an older person. It excludes self-neglect, where a person fails to provide for their own needs, and it does not include when a crime is committed by an unknown perpetrator.

The report states at least one in 10 older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year and evidence suggests that most abuse is intra-familial and inter-generational.

There are the obvious signs of elder abuse, such as when there is physical harm (bruising, broken bones, sprains etc.) or sexual abuse (unexplained venereal disease or genital infections, bruising around the breasts or genital areas, bleeding), but there are also far more subtle forms of elder abuse that can be difficult to spot among family members, friends and even care givers:

  • Financial abuse: where money is taken from your purse/wallet or withdrawn from your personal bank account (most often without your knowledge or consent); forced changes to a will or other legal document, or power of attorney; improperly using your house or other property (jewellery, furniture, artwork, other collectables) for their personal financial gain; and forged signatures on bank accounts or legal documents.
  • Psychological abuse: where you are forced into making decisions against your will; where you are called names, treated like a child or generally humiliated in public or private; where you are threatened with physical harm or institutionalisation; or where you are withdrawn from access to other family members, like other children or grandchildren.
  • Neglect (intentional or unintentional): where you suffer malnutrition, weight loss and dehydration as a result of not being provided with adequate food and drink; where you are abandoned or left unattended for long periods of time, or locked in your home/room without any supervision; where you have unmet physical needs such as overgrown nails, poor dental hygiene, body hygiene or a lack of skin care; where there is an inadequate or inappropriate use of medication; or where clothes are shabby or inappropriate for the weather conditions.

As some members of the Starts at 60 community have expressed, as you get older you want to be helpful but that in itself can lead to abuse.

This was the case for the friend of Starts at 60 community member, Anna*.

“In an effort to be supportive of her son and daughter-in-law one friend gave them access to her personal bank account, but on a couple of occasions she has found large withdrawals have been made without her knowledge,” Anna says. “She is living on a pension, paying off a mortgage, and has already done her bit in raising her children, so it’s almost as if the son has forgotten this and feels entitled to take money without first asking.”

Another Starts at 60 community member, Peter* tells a similar tale about one of his relatives.

“It’s very distressing for me to see how my nephew takes advantage of my brother,” Peter says. “Even though he’s at an age where he should take responsibility for his own life he behaves in a very threatening manner towards his father. He says my brother is the reason he is not able to hold down a job, so my brother is there every morning to pick him up and drop him at work just to make sure he gets there. My brother doesn’t see this as an abuse of power, he feels it’s his responsibility as a father to look after his children.”

Do these words ring true? Is this happening to you? Is it happening to someone you know?

The issue of elder abuse is of increasing concern. The AIFS report says that by 2050 a little more than one-fifth of the population will be over the age of 65 while roughly 5 per cent of the population will be aged 85 or more.

The suffering should no longer be done in silence, so if you notice a change in a family member’s or friend’s behaviour or personality or if you notice another sign of abuse, report it.

There is someone you can talk to, all states have an Elder Abuse Helpline:

Queensland – 1300 651 192

New South Wales – 1800 628 881 FREE

ACT (Canberra) – 02 6242 5060

Victoria – 1300 368 821

Tasmania – 03 6237 0047

South Australia – 08 8232 5377

Western Australia – 1300 724 679

Northern Territory – 1800 037 072 FREE


*Names have been changed to protect relationships.