What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is any behaviour or action within a relationship of trust that harms an older person. It includes financial, psychological, physical, sexual, social abuse and neglect.

Elder abuse is defined as the mistreatment or exploitation of an older person by someone that they know and trust.

1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) is the national elder abuse phone line. 1800ELDERHelp automatically redirects callers seeking information or advice on elder abuse to their state or territory phone line service. In the ACT the Older Persons ACT Legal Service (OPALS) receives these calls.

If you require assistance in an emergency or life-threatening situation, contact 000.

Who is at risk?

Abuse of older people crosses gender, socio-economic, religious and cultural boundaries.

Elder abuse can happen to anyone. It is important to recognise the signs and seek help early.

Abuse is most likely to be inflicted by family members, especially an older person’s adult children. Older people are at increased risk of abuse when they:

  • have a disability or poor health
  • are living with mental health issues
  • are in dependent caring relationships, particularly where a carer is experiencing carer burden or carer stress
  • are isolated and/or without personal supports
  • have a past history of violence or conflict within the family
  • exhibit particularly difficult and/or inappropriate behaviour, and/or confusion or memory loss
  • are persons from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds
  • are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • exhibit signs and symptoms of cognitive impairment including dementia.

Types of elder abuse

Financial Abuse involves the illegal or improper use of an older person’s finances or property. It can include:

  • stealing or misappropriating money
  • forcing changes to a will or other legal documents
  • denying access to personal funds, forging signatures or misusing Power of Attorney.

Psychological Abuse is the infliction of mental anguish involving actions that cause fear of violence, isolation or deprivation and feelings of shame, indignity or powerlessness. It can include:

  • verbal intimidation and shouting
  • humiliation or embarrassment
  • threats of physical harm
  • withholding of affection
  • threats of institutionalisation
  • removal of decision-making powers.

Physical Abuse is the infliction of physical pain, injury or physical coercion. It can include:

  • hitting, slapping, pushing, punching, kicking, beating, biting, scratching, shaking, arm twisting, dragging or burning
  • inappropriate restraint or medicating
  • locking a person in a room.

Sexual Abuse or exploitation can include:

  • rape (sexual intercourse against the wishes of an individual)
  • indecent assault (inappropriate sexual handling or touching)
  • sexual harassment (inappropriate comments or labelling about general appearance, attitude and behaviour).

Social Abuse involves preventing a person from having social contact, or access to social activities. It can include preventing independence with threats, manipulation and control as well as:

  • isolating a person from the support of family or friends
  • monitoring a person’s calls or not allowing them to use the telephone
  • preventing a person from socialising or meeting neighbours.

Neglect is the failure of a carer to provide the necessities of life to a person for whom they are caring. It can be intentional or unintentional, and include:

  • inadequate or inappropriate food or drink, supervision, clothing or accommodation
  • lack of mental, physical, social or cultural contact and/or stimulation
  • failure to meet physical needs or provide medical treatment.

What can a lawyer do for you in these situations?

Depending on the type of abuse, a lawyer can help to do the following:

  • obtain a Family Violence Order preventing the perpetrator from making contact or coming within a certain distance
  • make a new will or power of attorney
  • have an attorney removed or suspended by the ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) if the principal lacks capacity
  • have a Guardian or Financial Manager appointed by the ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) where a person has impaired decision-making capacity and is at risk of abuse, or experiencing abuse
  • recover property or other assets
  • obtain compensation
  • require the attorney to produce documents.

Finding help and advice

If you need assistance, please call the Law Society on 02 6274 0300 and we can put you in touch with a lawyer or a firm who can help you.

Older Persons ACT Legal Service (OPALS) is a specialist service within Legal Aid ACT providing legal help to older people in Canberra, including elder abuse, enduring powers of attorney, guardianship and financial arrangements with family members. Contact 02 6243 3436 or email opals@legalaidact.org.au.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission provides a free service for anyone to raise their concerns about the quality of care or services being delivered to people receiving aged care services subsidised by the Australian Government. Contact 1800 951 822.

Council on the Ageing (COTA) - ACT is the peak non-government organisation concerned with all issues related to ageing in the ACT. Contact 02 6282 3777.

ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service (ADACAS) provides free, independent advocacy and information for people with disabilities, older people and their carers in the ACT. Contact 02 6242 5060.

The ACT Human Rights Commission deals with complaints about discrimination, health services, services for older people and their carers, and the abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable persons over 60. Contact 02 6205 2222.

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