10 June, 2022

Are you worried about the older people in your life? 
Maybe you haven’t seen them in a while, or when you do see them, they seem anxious, withdrawn or flat. 

It can be hard to see someone you care about struggling, but even harder to know how to bring it up in a way that’s helpful to them.  

But with recent studies showing as many as one in six older Australians experience elder abuse, it’s more important than ever to check in with the older people in your life if you suspect something is wrong.  

Here are some tips for how to start the conversation. 

Choose the time and place 

Opening up about painful topics like abuse or neglect can be difficult. It’s important to make sure that the person you’re talking to feels safe and ready to openly share their feelings, especially if the topic is sensitive. 

Try only bringing this topic up in a comfortable, private environment, where they don’t have to worry about being overheard by others. Avoid areas where there are competing noises like a radio or a TV so you can focus on the conversation. 

Let them know you’re worried about them 

Reaching out to a loved one can help them feel less alone, but finding the right words to start the conversation can be hard. You might be worried about offending them or putting them on the spot. 

The easiest way to bring up this sensitive topic is to be gentle but direct.  Let them know that you care about them and have noticed they’ve been different lately. Give some examples if you can think of any. 

Some things you could say are: 

  • “Hey, I noticed you have seemed a bit down lately, and I’m worried about you.”
  • “I haven’t seen you in a while. Are things going okay?"

They may not be ready to talk about it yet, so don’t push them into the conversation if they seem uncomfortable. Let them know you’re always happy to listen and leave it there. 

Listen, don’t criticise 

If an older person is opening up to you about abuse or neglect they’ve experienced, the last thing they need is to feel like you are judging them for their feelings.  

Often, people struggling with abuse might feel ashamed or guilty about how they are treated and think they ‘deserved’ it. They might be shocked or upset that a person they trust has done this to them. 

Listen and thank them for opening up to you. Focus on encouraging them and giving them space to lead the conversation. You can use phrases like “That sounds really hard. Do you want to talk about it more?”  

Offer practical support 

If the older person you’re talking to is feeling overwhelmed, even a simple offer of practical support can take something off their plate. Some things you could offer to do for them are: 

  • Help them make or travel to appointments
  • Pick up medication for them
  • Work on a safety plan together.

Help them reach out to organisations that can support them 

Sometimes, your loved one might need more support than you can give them. Luckily, there are lots of organisations they can reach out to. You can even do some research together. Some places to start looking into are: 

Compass also has a useful list of elder abuse support services available across Australia. 

Keep in touch 

One of the easiest ways to help protect someone you love from elder abuse is to stay socially connected with them. If you have regular plans, it gives them a space to talk safely about their concerns with someone they trust. 

This conversation can be hard to have, but well worth it to let the person you’re worried about know they’re not alone. Learning the signs of elder abuse can help you better spot changes in your loved one’s behaviour worth asking them about. 

For more information, you can check out our Understanding Elder Abuse page, or give our counsellors a call on 1300 062 323.