Elder abuse is any act or omission that results in harm to an elderly or older person. It often occurs in relationships of trust such as between family members, carers or friends.

There are various forms of elder abuse, including:

  • Financial abuse or exploitation
  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Neglect
  • Psychological and emotional abuse
  • Social isolation

Financial abuse or exploitation

This kind of elder abuse is often illegal, or is at the very least improper. It can involve:

  • selling assets for less than they are worth
  • theft of or inappropriate use of an elderly person’s bank accounts, credit cards or investments
  • pressure to make gifts or loans
  • using an elderly persons resources for personal gain

Detecting this kind of abuse can be difficult if the elderly person is not aware of any offending behaviour or if there is a lack of oversight regarding the elderly person’s resources. Sudden changes in a person’s financial resources, assets or cash going missing, suspicious behaviour which can include the preparation of new legal documents such as wills, powers of attorney and appointments of enduring guardians, unpaid bills and unexplained or unnecessary financial transactions can signal that an elderly person is being exploited.

Physical and sexual abuse

Physical and sexual abuse can be difficult to detect as the abuse is not often reported and it usually occurs in private. Causing pain, injury or damage to an elderly person can vary in severity. Older people are not as resilient as when they were younger and serious injuries can be sustained easily. Even handling an elderly person too roughly, grabbing or squeezing too tightly or hitting and slapping a person can cause lasting damage.

If an elderly person has unexplained bruises, scars or burns, or they present with injuries like broken bones or serious sprains, there is a risk they are suffering physical abuse.

Sexual abuse can result in unexplained bleeding, STD infections and a sudden change in a person’s demeanour. Inappropriate touching and sexually exploitative behaviour is very difficult to identify particularly if the elderly person is not willing to disclose the abuse for fear of humiliation, embarrassment or retribution.


Neglect can occur intentionally and unintentionally. Appreciating that elderly people have special needs can be difficult for friends, carers and family, particularly if the elderly person was previously very independent. Examples of neglect include:

  • failing to render assistance to the elderly person
  • failing to provide regular or appropriate medication and treatments
  • withdrawing assistance or support by way of punishment
  • insufficient or inappropriate food, water and dietary considerations
  • failing to maintain basic hygiene and clean living conditions

Signs that an elderly person is suffering from neglect can be apparent if they lose weight, appear unkept or dishevelled, wear dirty clothes or their medications are not being taken.

Psychological and emotional abuse

In general terms, psychological and emotional abuse is often perpetrated with the intention (whether consciously or unconsciously) of instilling fear in an elderly person in order to control them. The actions and methods of perpetrators can include verbal and non-verbal threats of violence, mockery, belittling comments, insults, undue pressure and ridicule.

Threatening to withdraw all support and assistance to an elderly person unless they agree to do something or they agree to behave in a particular way is a common form of emotional abuse. The fear of being left without support can be significant if the elderly person does not have other support networks available.

Social isolation

Isolating an elderly person from their support networks of friends, family, medical practitioners or other professionals is a form of abuse as the elderly person is denied the ability to disclose issues or enjoy social engagement.

Indications that an elderly person is being isolated include:

  • filtering or limiting communications, e.g. reading all mail, cutting off telephone access,
  • a refusal to allow an elderly person to be alone with another person
  • constant supervision
  • preventing contact with other friends or family
  • withdrawing from regular or historically significant social or communal events

It can be difficult for an elderly person to see that they are being isolated as dependencies often develop.

Where to get help

There are different private and government support networks that can assist deal with elder abuse issues. These include:

It can be difficult for an elderly person to see that they are being isolated as dependencies often develop.

One of the best ways to protect yourself against the risks of elder abuse is to appoint people you trust to be your power of attorney and enduring guardian. Appointing more than one attorney and guardian can assist ensure there is more than one person who is able to look after you and make decisions in your best interests.