In Australia, a distressing reality persists: a staggering number of older individuals, approximately 185,000 each year, find themselves subjected to various forms of abuse and neglect.
The national prevalence of elder abuse stands at 14.8 per cent, indicating that one in every six seniors endures mistreatment in the form of psychological, physical, financial, sexual abuse, or neglect.
Troublingly, the most prevalent form of elder abuse reported is psychological abuse, affecting 11.7 per cent of older individuals.
These alarming statistics stem from a comprehensive survey conducted among 7,000 Australians aged 65 and above, with an additional survey encompassing 3,400 individuals between the ages of 18 and 64.
It is high time we address this pressing issue and take a stand against the mistreatment of our elderly population. By shedding light on the types of abuse faced by older individuals and understanding the measures to prevent them, we can forge a society where every senior can age with dignity, respect, and safety.
Elder abuse is a multifaceted problem that often arises from individuals who are trusted by older people, such as family members, friends, professionals, or paid caregivers. It can occur in various settings, including the older person’s own home.
What makes it even more complicated is that sometimes both the victim and the abuser fail to recognise the abusive nature of their interactions.
According to the World Health Organisation, elder abuse is “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
While elder abuse can be physical, it can also take on other forms like emotional, sexual, financial or simply reflect intentional or unintentional neglect.
We often see elderly neglect when a family member or caregiver fails to protect an older person from harm – causing them serious illness or injuries. Neglect, whether it be in a home setting or in aged care facilities usually shows an intentional lack of regard for an older person’s needs – both physical and mental. You see it in people through signs of:
Unfortunately, neglect is something that the Royal Commission into Aged Care is striving to overcome and there is a particularly high risk in aged care facilities that are understaffed.
Self-neglect occurs when an elderly person is unable to meet their basic daily needs and suffers as a result. Look out for the signs which are commonly seen as:
Elder financial abuse refers to the illegal, unauthorised, or improper use of an older individual’s resources. Aged care staff, family members, or even strangers can be perpetrators of elder financial abuse.
According to 2020 findings from the Survey of Older People, approximately 2 per cent of community-dwelling individuals aged 65 and older reported experiencing financial abuse within the 12 months prior to the survey.
Elder emotional and psychological abuse can be particularly traumatising for both the older person and their loved ones when they realise it has been occurring.
It takes many forms, but most commonly includes older people being called names, being distressed with threats and even being cut off from their loved ones or those who would put an end to the trauma if they saw evidence of it.
Physical elder abuse involves the deliberate use of force against an elderly person, which can include actions like hitting, shoving, kicking, or physically restraining them.
In addition to the visible injuries, there are other signs that may suggest an older person has been subjected to physical abuse:
Elder sexual abuse refers to any form of sexual contact with an older adult that is forced or non-consensual. This includes instances of sexual interactions involving elders who have conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other cognitive disabilities that render them unable to provide consent.
A lot of us think we’d recognise elder abuse if a family member was being affected. But would you be strong enough to call it out in your own family or community and take a stand?
If you believe that someone is in immediate danger due to elder abuse, it is important to contact emergency services by calling 000.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.