What is elder abuse?
Elder abuse is defined by the World Health Organisation (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.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 15.7% of people 60 years and older in the community may have experienced abuse. This means that potentially over 75,000 older Western Australians are affected. This number may be a lot higher for people in ’at risk’ categories. These include older people with physical or mental incapacity and people living in institutional settings.
Only a small fraction of elder abuse cases are reported – which means the prevalence is likely to be vastly underestimated.
Every week our advocates work with people who are experiencing elder abuse. We offer advice, organise access to suitable resources and support services, and work with them so they can resolve their situation.
Are you experiencing elder abuse?
Elder abuse can happen anywhere – in residential aged care, in community housing, in community services and in families… anywhere.
As with many forms of abuse it is hard to speak out. Sometimes it is 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 resolve the situation.
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.
If you are experiencing any type of elder abuse, Advocare can work with you, and with your consent, a family member, or another representative who is working in your best interests, to resolve the situation.
One of our advocates can assist 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
- Referring you to free legal services and supports
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 speak a language other than English we can arrange assistance via the Translating and Interpreting Service.
How everyone can help
Everyone can play a part in helping to stop elder abuse in our community by:
- Being aware that elder abuse comes in many guises.
- Understanding elder abuse can happen anywhere in our community.
- Listening to and supporting an older person who is concerned or stressed about their situation.
- Encouraging them to call our Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 724 679 for advice and assistance from one of our advocates.
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. Signs to watch for include:
- Acting fearfully or withdrawing
- Signs of stress, anxiety or depression
- Bruising or other physical injuries
- An inability to pay normal bills or having unpaid bills
- Marked weight loss
- Changes in sleeping patterns.
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
- Ageism – Ageist stereotypes and discrimination can lead to negative attitudes and discriminatory practices.
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 names on this website have been changed to protect privacy