The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study (NEAPS) final report came out in December 2021 recognising the ongoing challenges of this issue in Australian society with one in six older Australians experiencing abuse. With the increase of our aging population, this continues to be an important area for Australians to recognise they can do better for these vulnerable people.
‘World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is commemorated each year to highlight the most devastating outcomes of ageism: neglect, exploitation, sexual assault, and physical and emotional harm,’ said the Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), the new peak body representing aged care providers.
According to the NEAPS perpetrators of elder abuse are often family members, mostly adult children, but they can also be friends, neighbours and acquaintances. A significant part of the problem is that elder abuse often remains hidden as two thirds of older people don’t seek help when they are abused.
Psychological abuse is the most common form of abuse (12 per cent) followed by neglect (3 per cent), financial abuse (2 per cent), physical abuse (2 per cent) and sexual abuse (1 per cent).
‘The fact that it’s often the people closest to them who are committing the abuse is particularly concerning, as this can create a desire by the victim to keep the abuse a secret to avoid shame, embarrassment and negative repercussions for the perpetrator – especially when it comes to family members,’ said one of the report’s co-authors, AIFS Deputy Director of Research, Dr Rae Kaspiew.
The research reports that the most frequent action taken to stop the abuse involves the victim speaking directly to the perpetrator. Another common measure is breaking contact with or avoiding the perpetrator, though Dr Kaspiew warns this may make the impact of the abuse worse, by increasing the older person’s isolation.
‘Breaking contact with or avoiding the perpetrator may serve to further exacerbate the effects of the abuse on the older person because of their social withdrawal.
‘Family dynamics can make abuse difficult to address. For example, when the abuse is perpetrated by an adult child, the older person may be reluctant to expose the abuse to avoid losing contact with other family members such as grandchildren,’ said Dr Kaspiew.
When victims do seek help or advice from a third party, family (41 per cent), friends (41 per cent), and general practitioners or nurses (29 per cent) are the most common sources of support.
Dr Kaspiew said that while anyone can experience abuse, there are certain characteristics that put older people more at risk.
The report found that lower socio-economic status, being single, separated or divorced, living in rented housing, owning a house with a debt against it and poor physical or psychological health are all features that are associated with a higher risk of abuse.
‘Elder abuse is something that can happen to anyone, no matter their circumstances. It’s important that we do everything we can to reduce the abuse and its impacts,’ said Dr Kaspiew.
‘Evidence tells us we can do this by introducing strategies to reduce the vulnerability of older people to abuse, developing greater measures to raise awareness of elder abuse and the services available to help, as well as improved screening for and assessment of situations where elder abuse may be occurring,’ she said.
Anyone concerned about their safety, or concerned about the safety of a loved one, can call the national free and confidential phone number 1800 ELDER Help (1800 353 374). Callers seeking information and advice on elder abuse are automatically directed to a phone service in their state or territory.