As our society continues to age, the issue of elder abuse has become increasingly prominent. Elder abuse can be defined as any form of mistreatment or harm inflicted upon older adults by a person with whom the older person has a relationship of trust. This includes physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse, as well as neglect.

It is a distressing reality that many older individuals face, often in silence and in isolation. According to the 2021 SOTON Report, a large proportion of elder abuse is going unreported: while one in seven older Australians reported experiencing elder abuse themselves or knowing someone else who has, fewer than half are speaking up about it [1].

In light of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15th June, we aim to call attention to elder abuse, discuss its various forms, and explore ways to take action and protect our vulnerable seniors.

Understanding Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a multifaceted problem that affects individuals across different socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and geographic locations. It encompasses various forms of harm:

  1. Physical Abuse: intentional use of force that results in physical pain, injury or impairment. Including hitting, pushing, restraining, or using excessive force whilst providing care.
  2. Emotional abuse: verbal or non-verbal acts that cause emotional pain, distress, or anguish. It can take the form of threats, humiliation, intimidation, or isolation.
  3. Sexual abuse: non-consensual sexual contact or exploitation of an older adult.
  4. Financial abuse: unauthorised or improper use of an elder’s funds, assets or property. It can involve scams, theft, coercion or undue influence, leaving seniors in a vulnerable financial situation.
  5. Neglect: occurs when caregivers fail to provide the necessary care, attention or support required for an elder’s well-being. It can result in pain, discomfort, malnutrition, poor hygiene or untreated medical conditions.

Both psychological and financial abuse is the most common forms of abuse reported in Australia [3] [6] with older women significantly more likely to be victims than older men, and most abuse is intergenerational (i.e., involving abuse of parents by adult children), with sons being perpetrators to a greater extent than daughters [4].
Sadly, it is our most vulnerable seniors, people with poor physical or psychological health and higher levels of social isolation who are more likely to experience elder abuse [7].

Recognising red flags

Whether you are a family member, friend, neighbour or carer, we all need to look out for the older people in our lives. By being aware of common signs and behaviours of elder abuse we play a part in protecting the vulnerable.

Indications of elder abuse can present in two forms. Firstly in the behaviours of the victim or perpetrators and secondly in the visual clues/ warning signs displayed [2].

Common warning signals for physical, emotional, sexual, financial abuse and neglect include:

  • Unexplained injuries, bruises or fractures
  • Emotional withdrawal, depression, or sudden behavioural changes
  • Unusual financial transactions or significant changes in financial status
  • Poor hygiene, weight loss, or untreated medical conditions
  • Social isolation or restricted access to visitors
  • Fearful or anxious behaviour in the presence of specific individuals

We need to be aware of these signs. Concerningly, according to the 2021 SOTON report, one of the biggest barriers to seeking help among those who knew someone who had suffered elder abuse was that the person was not in their family so they ‘minded their own business’ and did not get involved. Others tried to provide emotional support to the victim or many didn’t realise it was happening or how serious it was. “The person did not want me to speak out” [5]. We need to be prepared to take action when we see the signs, and therefore to support those most vulnerable.

Elder abuse in our community raising awareness - COTA NSW media
Image: Centre for Ageing Better

Raising Awareness and Taking Action

Raising awareness of this serious issue is key to preventing and addressing it. There are five steps we can take:

  1. Community education: educate ourselves and others on the various forms of elder abuse, its warning signs and common behaviours of victims. Understand and be aware of the various resources available for support.
  2. Reporting: if you suspect a situation of potential elder abuse, talk to someone. Contact the below listed helplines or appropriate authorities. Your intervention could make a significant difference in someone’s life.
  3. Caregiver training and support: provide caregivers with access to training programs that emphasise the importance of compassionate care, ethical responsibility and recognise the signs of abuse. Similarly, it is important to provide caregivers with respite care options and resources for their own self-care.
  4. Building supportive environments: encourage open conversations about elder abuse within families, communities and healthcare settings. This will help to build environments that foster dignity, respect and inclusion.
  5. Community involvement: engage with your local community organisations, senior centres and advocacy groups, such as COTA NSW that focus on elder abuse prevention. Support their initiatives and contribute with your time or resources.

Elder abuse is a very important issue that requires our attention and collective action. By raising awareness, recognising the signs and taking protective measures we can create a safer and more compassionate society for our vulnerable seniors.Together we need to stand against elder abuse and ensure that older Australians can age with the dignity, respect and security that they deserve.

Need help and support?

Contact us on 1800 449 102 and we can provide you with Information and Guidance on where to go and who to call for help.

Contact COMPASS on 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374)

Help tackling elder abuse, starts here. – Compass

In an emergency please contact 000

Want to get involved?

Join our positive ageing movement. Become an advocate for the rights of mature Australlians. Link to membership page.


[1] [5] SEC Newgate Research (2021) State of the Older Nation, prepared for the Councils on the Ageing Federation. COTA Australia

[2] Compass (2021) Recognising Elder Abuse. Elder Awareness Action Australia

[3] [4] Kaspiew, R., Carson, R., & Rhoades, H. (2018). Elder Abuse: Understanding issues, frameworks and responses. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies

[6] [7] Qu, L., Kaspiew, R., Carson, R., Roopani, D., De Maio, J., Harvey, J., Horsfall, B. (2021). National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study: Final Report. (Research Report). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.