Elder abuse is something we hear a lot about in the news, but what is elder abuse and what can we do to prevent or report it?
According to statistics from the United Nations, around 1 in 6 people 60 years and older, experienced some form of abuse in community settings globally during the past year. This is a horrifying statistic. If we then add the abuse that occurs in institutions such as aged care facilities, then elder abuse really is a major global human rights issue. As such, there are a lot of resources out there talking about elder abuse, with each state and territory in Australia having dedicated organisations to help combat elder abuse in the community. We’ve included details of these in the links below as they have excellent resources.
In this article, we’ve adapted information from the NSW Ageing and Disability Commission to help answer the question, what is elder abuse?
What is elder abuse?
The United Nations defines elder abuse as “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 the NSW Ageing and Disability Commissioner has simplified it by saying:
“Everyone has the right to feel safe and be treated with dignity and respect in their own home and community. This list may help understand types of abuse, neglect, or exploitation towards older people and adults with disability.”
Types of elder abuse
There are many types of abuse experienced by vulnerable adults.
Financial abuse is threatening to take someone’s money or assets, misusing another person’s money without permission, or stealing and abusing power for financial gain.
Psychological abuse is threatening, pressuring, or intimidating someone verbally, or emotionally blackmailing them. This also includes threatening to isolate someone from friends and family.
Physical abuse is intentionally pushing, shoving, kicking, or injuring someone else. This includes physically restraining or locking someone up in their home.
Sexual abuse is having non-consensual contact with someone. This could be enforcing nudity, or inappropriate washing or handling.
It is not OK to abuse anyone, especially someone vulnerable like an older person or an adult with a disability.
What is neglect?
Neglect is a type of abuse that means a vulnerable person’s basic needs are not being met.
This could be not providing adequate food, clothing, or shelter, not keeping someone safe, or refusing to meet a vulnerable person’s healthcare needs.
Neglect is also deliberately denying a vulnerable person help, which leaves them exposed to physical, mental, and emotional harm. This is known as wilful neglect.
It is not OK to neglect anyone, especially someone vulnerable like an older person or an adult with a disability.
What is exploitation?
The most common type of exploitation is financial. This means someone takes money, assets, or allowances from a vulnerable person for their own use and without permission.
Exploitation can also be someone who sells, transfers, or changes property titles without the property owner knowing.
It is not OK to use or sell another person’s assets without their consent, especially someone vulnerable like an older person or an adult with a disability.
Every older person has the right to:
- Control and access their own money
- Choose to see family and friends when they want to
- Attend appointments without another person
- Have easy access to clean clothes, food and their own medication
Where to get help if you or someone you know is the target of elder abuse
Each state and territory in Australia has resources to help.
In an emergency call 000 or Lifeline 13 11 14 for crisis support. National Relay Service 1800 555 660 Interpreter Services 131 450. You can also call the police in your local area.
Telephone: 1800 353 374 (national free call phone number that automatically redirects callers seeking information and advice on elder abuse with existing phone line service in their jurisdiction)
Australian Capital Territory
Older Persons Abuse Prevention Referral and Information Line (APRIL)
Telephone: 02 6205 3535
What if the abuse takes place in an aged care facility?
If you suspect abuse in an aged care facility, there is currently a different process for that. While the resources above may help you, the main regulator is the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. There is currently a lot of lobbying taking place to have abuse in aged care counted in official elder abuse statistics and programs.
Some additional useful links:
Our Carers’ Circle article on spotting the signs of elder abuse and what you can do to help – https://carerscircle.com.au/2020/06/14/signs-of-elder-abuse-and-what-you-can-do-to-help/
National Elder Abuse Helpline – https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination/projects/elder-abuse
NSW Ageing and Disability Discrimination Commission brochure on elder abuse – https://www.ageingdisabilitycommission.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/772175/Brochure-defining-abuse-neglect-and-exploitation.pdf
United Nations fact sheet on elder abuse – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/elder-abuse
United Nations background information on World Elder Abuse Day – https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/world-elder-abuse-awareness-day.html
United Nations World Elder Abuse Day information – https://www.un.org/en/observances/elder-abuse-awareness-day/
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