The tell-tale signs your elderly family member is being abused

Legal Aid has warned of a rise in financial abuse as adult children struggle to get on the property ladder.

In the 1970s, 8 per cent of the population was over 65 years of age. This figure grew to 13 per cent in 2001, and it’s predicted that over-65s will make up 25 per cent of the population by 2042. That’s a growth from 2.5 million to 6.2 million people.

Growth in the over-85 category is expected to be even more rapid, with that population expanding from 300,000 people in 2002 to 1.1 million by 2042.

While the increase in the numbers of people aged over 65 is in part the happy result of greater longevity, we’ve also seen the rise of a new, related problem – elder abuse. 

Just in June, national Legal Aid chairman Graham Hill warned that skyrocketing Australian property prices had led to worrying increase in elder abuse cases, as adult children struggled to enter the property market without financial assistance.

Elder abuse is a term used to describe an act or omission that inflicts harm towards the elderly. It can take the form of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, or financial exploitation, or abandonment or neglect.

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We’re currently seeing increasing numbers of reports of financial abuse across the media scape, usually stories of people of all ages robbing their parents or grandparents for personal financial gain.

Sadly, recognition of this abuse often comes too late. But there are important warning signs for family, friends and carers to look out for, so they can be forearmed and ready to protect their loved ones from people looking to take advantage of them.

Financial abuse

When our loved ones are financially abused, they may already be in a state where they were unable to adequately handle their own monetary affairs, which makes it difficult for them to report the abuse, and for onlookers to identify it.

Tell-tale signs to look out for include:

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  • Unexplained changes in financial situations, for e.g. suddenly not being able to cover regular expenses
  • Large withdrawals from bank accounts
  • Unexplained disappearance of belongings.

Medical abuse

Medical abuse is the type seen in nursing home, and occasionally hospital, situations, where an elderly resident or patient is inadequately cared for.

Tell-tale signs to look out for include:

  • Inadequate clothing or heating/cooling
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Skin diseases/infections/bruises
  • Insufficient hygiene practises leading to unnecessary conditions, for e.g. mouth infections from poor oral hygiene
  • Pressure sores (decubitus ulcers), bedsores, or blisters from lack of movement and or incomplete cleaning-up of faeces and/or urine
  • Dramatic, explained weight loss
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Physical abuse

In environment where friends and family of the elderly are not around 24/7 to provide care, loved ones can also be subjected to physical abuse or rough handling.

Tell-tale signs to to look out for include:

  • Evidence of restraint or rough handling (have they been hit, kicked, or punched?)
  • Cuts, sprains, broken bones, bruises or hair loss evident.
  • Overuse of a medication to sedate or restrain the person.

Sexual abuse

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While physical abuse is the easiest to detect, it is also sadly, only visible after-the-fact. Distressingly, the elderly aren’t immune from sexual assaults as well.

Tell-tale signs to look out for include:

  • Injuries to thighs, buttocks, neck, or face
  • Bite marks or scratches
  • Evidence of injury to mouth, neck, genitals, or rectum
  • Blood on clothing, in particular on underwear or sheets
  • Unexplained rips in nightwear or bedding.

Psychological Abuse

Finally, look for evidence of a change in behaviour in your loved ones.

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Tell-tale signs to look out for include:

  • Sudden increase in anxiety, depression, sadness, or anger
  • Fearfulness of certain people or situations.

If you suspect that a family member or friend is being mistreated, it is important to report this abuse to police, and potentially seek legal advice to remedy the abuse.

Mistreatment of the most vulnerable members of society is never acceptable. It’s time we gave these victims a voice.

Have you ever handled this distressing issue with a family member or friend? What did you do?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and for information purposes only. It does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It is not financial product advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any financial decision you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from an independent licensed financial services professional.