10 June, 2020
Now is the time to talk about elder abuse.

As communities across Australia begin the slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we all must recognise the increased risk that older members of our communities have faced, and continue to face, as a result of elder abuse. 

Staff within our services here at Relationships Australia Queensland have reported an increase in requests for assistance from older Queenslanders at risk of, or experiencing, elder abuse. This is consistent with reports from other services and researchers both in Australia and overseas

While support services are critical in assisting older people who are experiencing abuse, we also need to raise awareness of how we can all better protect and safeguard senior members of our communities to ensure they aren’t left without connections and support during the COVID-19 recovery. 

With this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) coming up on Monday 15 June, we believe there is no better time for us to talk about elder abuse. 

Let’s start by considering why and how elder abuse occurs. 


Stress, hardship and relationship breakdown often lead to elder abuse

Elder abuse refers to any act that causes harm to an older person and is carried out in the context of a relationship of trust, such as a family member or friend.

Elder abuse is a highly complex issue with no clear single type of victim or perpetrator. It can take a range of forms including physical, financial, emotional, social and sexual, along with neglect. A person often experiences more than one form of abuse at a time. 

Elder abuse can be intentional or unintentional. It can be easy to recognise and intervene, or it can be hidden in relationships for months or even years. 

Some common factors that contribute to elder abuse include:

  • Ageism — Negative attitudes of older people result in discrimination or mistreatment.
  • Cohabitation — Elderly parents sharing living arrangements with adult children.
  • Vulnerability — Risk increases in those who are socially isolated, in poor health, dependant on others, and have infrequent access to formal care.
  • Inheritance impatience — A pre-emptive sense of ownership of an older person’s assets.

During COVID-19, we have seen a considerable number of people experiencing financial hardship. This can lead to disputes and sometimes breakdown in family relationships as a result of lending money, shared living arrangements and changing legal arrangements such as wills and enduring powers of attorney. 

We know that financial abuse is the most commonly reported form of elder abuse, and this includes pressuring, threatening or coercing an older person to make decisions that aren’t in their best interests. 

So what can we do to better safeguard older people from abuse?


Social connections are the key to prevent, recognise and respond to elder abuse

It is well known that one of the strongest protective factors in preventing older people from experiencing abuse is strong and regular social connections with their loved ones, friends, neighbours, care workers and with their wider community. 

Each and every social interaction an older person has with someone else — whether it be a visit from a neighbour, a cup of tea with a friend, a visit to the doctor, or a trip to the store — is an opportunity to create supportive relationships and to recognise any early warning signs. 

In the COVID-19 environment, physical distancing measures have meant that many of these opportunities for social connection have disappeared. 

When many of us have gone online to replace our need for social connection, many older members of our communities don’t have the same access to or confidence in using technology. 

Older people who were previously living independently in their own homes with the support of aged care services, their doctor, neighbours and relationships in their communities, are now vulnerable to elder abuse, and the opportunity for others to recognise and respond is less. 


Ending elder abuse is everyone’s responsibility

As we approach this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June, we ask that you join us in recognising the importance of safeguarding older Queenslanders and taking steps to end elder abuse.

Here are a few of the ways you can help:

  1. Take 15 minutes out of your day on Monday 15 June to have a conversation about elder abuse with a family member or friend, or with your colleagues at work. 
  2. Think about whether there’s anything you might be able to do to connect with older people, including your loved ones, neighbours or those you interact with in your work.
  3. Learn about how to recognise the common warning signs of elder abuse, and how to take action if you suspect someone might be experiencing elder abuse. 

For more information or to learn about what services are available through Relationships Australia Queensland, visit our website at https://www.raq.org.au/services/senior-relationship-services or call us on 1300 364 277

If it’s an emergency and you believe that you or someone you know is currently unsafe, you should call 000.