Understanding Elder Abuse


What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is any harmful act, or lack of appropriate action, carried out on an older person by a trusted individual.


Is elder abuse common?

1 in 6 older Australians report having experienced elder abuse in the past 12 months.

2 in 3 victims of elder abuse don't seek help when they are abused.

With an increasing ageing population, Australia will see more incidents of elder abuse over the next few decades, making it an important issue to respond to. 


What are the types of elder abuse?

The five main types of elder abuse are psychological abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Sadly, when an older person experiences one type of abuse, they are likely to experience multiple types.

Abuse can be a single act, or repeated acts.

  • Psychological elder abuse

    Psychological abuse, also called emotional abuse, is a series of actions and behaviours that intimidate the victim. Psychological abuse includes coercive control.
  • Financial elder abuse

    Financial abuse is when a trusted individual takes advantage of a person for financial gain. Financial abuse is the mostly commonly reported type of elder abuse in Queensland.
  • Physical elder abuse

  • Sexual elder abuse

  • Elder neglect


What are the signs of elder abuse?

As there are several types of elder abuse, there can be many different signs which can indicate abuse. Some types of abuse may be more difficult to identify than others. 

Some signs of elder abuse include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Anger or irritability
  • Unexplained wounds
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Lack of medical or dental care
  • Inadequate access to necessities
  • Worry or anxiety about a specific person
  • No power over or access to their own finances.

You can learn more about the signs of elder abuse and abusive behaviours here.


Who is vulnerable to elder abuse?

Recognised risk factors that may increase an older person’s vulnerability to experiencing abuse include:

  • Living alone
  • Mental ill health
  • Financial difficulties
  • Poor physical health
  • Limited financial skills
  • Being socially isolated
  • Being dependent on others
  • Cultural or linguistic differences
  • Those who identify as LGBTQIA+
  • Family conflict and relationship issues
  • Being of First Nations heritage (twice as likely to experience elder abuse than non-First Nations Peoples).

Women and men experience elder abuse at nearly the same rate.

Some of these risk factors are things that cannot be changed, but there are a range of steps an older person can take to help to protect themselves from abuse


Who commits elder abuse?

A perpetrator of elder abuse is someone whose relationship to the older person should be one where trust is expected.

Abuse may be intentional or unintentional - some perpetrators may not realise that their behaviour constitutes as abuse, or are not necessarily intending to harm the victim.

In 91% of elder abuse cases, the perpetrator is a family member. 1 in 5 perpetrators are the victim's adult child.

Other abusers can be a spouse, another family member, a friend or acquaintance, a neighbour, or a paid caretaker.


What protects people from elder abuse?

There are a range of ways that older people, their supporters and loved ones, and the general community can work together to prevent elder abuse.

Creating awareness

Elder abuse is an under-recognised issue in our community.  We can all help to prevent elder abuse by knowing the common signs of elder abuse and what to do if we suspect that someone is being abused. 

Addressing ageism

Ageism is the discrimination or mistreatment of a person or group of people based on their age. Ageism has been identified in almost half of reported cases of elder abuse in Australia.

Addressing and discarding negative perceptions and stereotypes can help to prevent acts of abuse against older people. 

Staying active

Being active and engaged is critical to our wellbeing, especially in older age. Individuals with good physical and mental health are less likely to experience elder abuse.

Social connection

Social connection and peer support help seniors to be less vulnerable to elder abuse. Those who experience elder abuse have a much lower sense of social support compared to those who are not experiencing elder abuse.

Joining a local seniors group is a great way to build a social network later in life.


A self-advocate is someone who communicates their own wants and needs. Those who self-advocate are shown to be more likely to thrive.

One can be an advocate for their self by learning about their rights and opportunities, controlling their own financial and legal affairs, and setting goals and plans for the future. 

Help-seeking behaviours

There is no shame in reaching out for help.

Seeking help can include seeing a counsellor, a community educator, or another type of experienced professional. It may include seeking independent, legal, or professional advice.


    How to respond to elder abuse

    If you feel you may be experiencing elder abuse, it's okay to reach out for help. 

    If you suspect that an older person you know may be experiencing abuse, it’s important that you express and act on your concerns.

    Here are some steps to helping an older person you're worried about:

    • Assess their immediate safety
    • If you believe they are in danger, call 000
    • Talk to the older person in a safe environment
    • Gently ask about their wellbeing
    • Raise your concerns without being judgmental
    • Reassure them that their feelings are nothing to be ashamed of
    • Encourage them to seek professional support
    • Assist them in making contact with and accessing relevant support services
    • Remind them that you're there for them
    • Check in regularly on the person's condition.

    Professionals who are equipped with the knowledge and resources to help include:

    • Housing services
    • Aged care workers
    • Cultural affiliations
    • Community groups
    • Financial and legal services
    • Community welfare agencies
    • Doctors and health professionals.


    Our services

    RAQ offers free support to older Queenslanders through our Senior Relationships Services (SRS).

    You can contact SRS at 1300 062 232.

    Elder Abuse Prevention and Support Service (EAPSS)

    EAPSS is a free case management service. We provide support and assistance to those at risk of, or currently experiencing, elder abuse. This service offers individualised support and referrals. Learn more

    Senior Financial Protection Service (SFPS)

    SFPS is a free service which helps older Queenslanders who are experiencing financial elder abuse. SFPS also educates older people to make informed financial decisions with their best interest in mind. Learn more

    Senior Relationship Mediation Service (SRMS)

    SRMS is a free service which offers combined family mediation, family therapy, and individual support. SRMS prioritises the interests, rights, and personal safety of the older person. Learn more

    Senior Social Connection Program (SSCP)

    SSCP is a free program which offers older people in the Sunshine Coast and Gympie a range of peer support and community-based activities. SSCP aims to reduce social isolation and loneliness in older people. Learn more


    Helpful Resources

    You can download or print these resources.

    Resources on Elder Abuse

    Financial Safety for Older People

    Social Connection for Older People

    Family Mediation for Seniors

    More helpful resources


    Senior Relationship Services Blog

    You can access the SRS blog here to find detailed information about navigating older age.


    Videos and Webinars