Addressing Elder Abuse

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What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) 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.

Elder abuse can happen anywhere – in residential aged care, home care and in families. 

As with many forms of abuse, it can be hard to speak out. Sometimes it’s even hard to admit it to yourself.

When elder abuse happens within families you can feel ashamed to seek help and fearful of reprisals. But we are here to listen to you and work with you to improve or resolve the situation.

Every week our advocates work with older people who are experiencing elder abuse. We offer assistance, information, organise access to suitable resources and support services, and work with them to try and resolve the situation.

This short video below helps explain what elder abuse is and how Advocare can help.

How we can help

If you are experiencing any type of elder abuse, Advocare can work with you to improve or resolve the situation.

With your consent, we can also work with a family member or another representative who is working in your best interests, to resolve the situation.

Our Advocates can support you by:

  • Listening to your needs and concerns
  • Helping you to fully explore the options available to address the issue
  • Providing comprehensive resources and information
  • Supporting you with any conversations or actions you need to take; and
  • Referring you to free legal services and support.

It’s important to note that we will not intervene or take any action without your consent. Nor do we carry out any investigations.

Our services are free and confidential, and you can choose how much you would like us involved in resolving the issue.

If you, or someone you know, may be experiencing elder abuse of any form, please call our free and confidential WA Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 724 679. Operating hours are Monday to Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm. 

And if you speak a language other than English we can arrange assistance via the Translating and Interpreting Service.

(Please note: Client confidentially is maintained except in instances where our staff believe there is a real or perceived threat to the individual, or wider community. This information will be regarded as having to be disclosed in the interests of safety).

Elder abuse is everybody’s business, and it can happen anywhere.

In Australia, 1 in 6 older people are experiencing some form of abuse.

We can all play a part in helping to stop elder abuse in our community by:

  • Being aware that elder abuse comes in many forms
  • Understanding that elder abuse can happen anywhere
  • Listening to and supporting an older person who is concerned or stressed about their situation; and
  • Encouraging people to call our WA Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 724 679 for free and confidential support and assistance from one of our experienced advocates.

Types of elder abuse

FINANCIAL – Improper use of your money or assets.  This can cover withholding money or making decisions on how your money is used without your consent.

NEGLECT – Withholding essential care.  This can include withholding food, shelter, clothing, medical or dental care or emotional support.

PSYCHOLOGICAL – Inflicting mental anguish.  This kind of abuse creates fear or feelings of shame and powerlessness.

SEXUAL – A broad range of unwanted sexual behaviour.  This can involve rape, indecent assault, sexual harassment as well as using sexually offensive language.

SOCIAL – Isolating you.  Isolation can occur by restricting or preventing social contact with your family and friends as well as denying or limiting social activities.

PHYSICAL – Deliberately causing physical pain or injury.  This type of abuse includes physical coercion and physical restraint.

Risk factors

There are several factors that increase the risk of elder abuse. These include:

  • Dependency – when an older person is dependent on others;
  • Family dynamics and living arrangements – unresolved issues, family conflict, spousal violence
  • Social Isolation – which can take many forms;
  • Health and cognitive impairment – including physical and mental illness, dementia and depression;
  • Addictions – alcohol, prescription or illicit drugs, or gambling addiction of the older person or the abuser;
  • Carer stress – this can lead to abuse; and
  • Ageism – ageist stereotypes and discrimination can lead to negative attitudes and discriminatory practices.

Signs to look for

Some of the signs to watch for include:

  • Acting fearfully or withdrawn
  • Signs of stress, anxiety or depression
  • Bruising or other physical injuries
  • An inability to pay normal bills or having unpaid bills
  • Marked weight loss; or
  • Changes in sleeping patterns.

Remember, abuse may be occurring without any indicators or signs, and some signs may be caused by something other than abuse. Even if you are not sure, talk to us about your suspicions.

If you’re concerned that you, or someone you know, is experiencing elder abuse of any form, call our free and confidential WA Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 724 679. Operating hours are Monday to Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm.

Helpful resources:

Advocare – Standing strong and speaking out: Identifying the signs of elder abuse

Advocare – Help stop elder abuse (2023), A3 poster

Elder Abuse Posters Versions 1-4

Elder Abuse Posters Versions 1-4 Arabic

Elder Abuse Posters Versions 1-4 Italian

Elder Abuse Posters Versions 1-4 Vietnamese

Elder Abuse Posters Versions 1-4 Simplified Chinese

APEA: WA Elder Abuse Protocol

APEA: WA Elder Abuse Protocol Flowchart

Isla’s story

Isla* aged 76, owned her own home. When she mentioned to her daughter she was considering downsizing, her daughter suggested Isla move in with her and her family, and with the proceeds from the house sale fund an extension to their home. Without discussing the matter with anyone else in the family, Isla accepted her offer.

Initially the arrangement worked quite well, however after a while some problems emerged. Isla’s other two children were not happy with the money spent on improving her daughter’s property and disagreements within the family became a big issue. Over time Isla’s health needs became greater placing more strain on her family relationships. Her daughter became increasingly hostile towards her.

Eventually her daughter told Isla she needed to find alternative accommodation. Isla felt rejected and hurt by her family. In addition she didn’t have enough money to purchase a new home. Her daughter was not prepared to give Isla any of the money spent on the house extensions as she viewed them as a gift from mother to daughter. Isla found herself a pensioner with limited funds and housing opportunities.

Isla contacted Advocare for help. We provided information and a referral to appropriate housing services and helped her access some counselling. Once settled in safe and secure housing, we were also able to assist Isla to recover some of the money from her daughter.

* All real names in this case study story have been changed for privacy.