Elder abuse is a form of family violence specifically targeting older individuals.
However, elder abuse can extend beyond the family home and can also occur in institutional settings, like aged care facilities, often perpetrated by individuals in positions of trust, including family members or caregivers.
Elder abuse is a global social issue that affects the well-being and human rights of millions of older people worldwide. It contributes significantly to illness, loss of productivity, isolation, and despair (WHO 2002). Consequently, elder abuse impacts not only the directly affected individuals but also the broader community.
The United Nations defines elder abuse as follows: “A single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person”. It can come in many forms, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence, financial abuse, coercive control and neglect.
Research indicates that up to 14 per cent of older people may experience elder abuse, with women being two to three times more likely to be victims of this form of family violence than men (Better Health 2018). The actual number may be even higher due to many individuals feeling unable to speak out. Moreover, while older women are more susceptible to abuse than older men, elder abuse can affect older individuals regardless of their gender, race, cultural values, religion, or socioeconomic factors.
Several known risk factors for elder abuse include:
Putting an end to elder abuse will require a global effort, and through advocacy we can encourage the implementation of person-centered care solutions to achieve this. We strongly urge the creation of policy frameworks that embed the concept of care and prioritize the well-being and protection of older people, ensuring their rights, dignity and safety are upheld.
Healthcare providers, caregivers, and staff in aged care facilities who work with older people should (if they don’t already) undergo comprehensive training programs emphasizing the importance of empathy, respect and compassion in caregiving. These programs should also raise awareness about the signs of elder abuse and appropriate actions to take in response.
Further, healthcare policies should promote an approach that recognizes the unique needs and preferences of older individuals, tailoring care plans accordingly. This approach emphasizes treating older people with dignity, involving them in decision-making and providing support that promotes their overall well-being, fostering a culture that values and respects older people and reducing the risk of abuse.
Policy frameworks should also establish clear guidelines and regulations for aged care facilities and institutions to ensure a safe and nurturing environment for older people. This includes implementing robust screening processes for staff and volunteers, conducting regular inspections to monitor compliance with safety standards and establishing protocols for reporting and promptly addressing cases of elder abuse.
By integrating care into policy frameworks, societies can create a safer and more compassionate environment for older people, reducing the prevalence of elder abuse and promoting their overall well-being.
To prevent elder abuse on an individual level, it is crucial to be aware of the signs in older family members, friends, and acquaintances.
Indicators of elder abuse can include:
If you are experiencing elder abuse or suspect someone else is, reach out for help from Seniors Rights Victoria by calling 1300 368 821 or visiting www.seniorsrights.org.au.