How to recognise the signs of elder abuse

More emphasis is being placed on learning to recognise the signs of elder abuse, with calls to Queensland’s elder abuse hotline showing older people are more likely to experience abuse in their own home, at the hands of their own family.

According to the Elder Abuse Statistics in Queensland report, calls to the Queensland Elder Abuse Prevention Unit Helpline increased by 31.8% in the 2021 financial year. More than three-quarters of abuse notifications related to the abuse of older people by their adult children.

In close to two-thirds of cases, victims and perpetrators were living together, a trend which has increased sharply in recent years due to the housing shortage in Queensland and other economic impacts associated with COVID-19. The report showed dependency was another contributor with close to one-third of victims depending on perpetrators for decision making and emotional support.

Centacare Area General Manager Desley Chorlton manages the delivery of vital at-home and social and community support services that help older people stay living in their own homes. She says the findings highlight the importance of understanding and dealing with elder abuse as a community.

“Elder abuse can be difficult to recognise,” said Ms Chorlton.

“Firstly, older people are often reluctant to discuss their concerns with others because the person abusing them is often the person they rely on for their meals, to assist with their medication, or for access to their grandchildren.

“If they say something, will it get worse? Will they be put into residential care? Some may not even realise what they are experiencing is abuse, or feel that somehow it is their fault.

“Secondly, the signs are not always physically evident.”

The report found that psychological abuse was the primary form of abuse experienced (72.9%), followed by financial (62.6%) and social (28%).

The most common forms of psychological abuse were degrading victims, emotional blackmail and gaslighting. The most common methods of perpetrating financial abuse were undue influence, misuse of an Enduring Power of Attorney and misuse of debit and credit cards. Restricting visitation by others, restricting access to a phone and deliberately behaving in a way which limited visitation from others were the most common forms of social abuse reported.

“We need to be very attuned to changes we see in the older people we know,” said Ms Chorlton.

“Are they starting to cancel outings and activities that they have enjoyed being a part of? Have their energy levels changed? Have they become reluctant to spend money? Older people that have experienced or are experiencing abuse often withdraw into themselves. It’s vital that as a community we can recognise these things and respond appropriately.”

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is held on 15 June each year as an opportunity for communities to promote a better understanding of abuse of older persons.

If you know or suspect someone is being abused, you can:

• Let the person know that help is available
• Invite the person to talk in a place where they are alone and safe, and listen
• Let the person know it is not their fault
• Respect their right to make their own decisions
• Avoid being critical of the abusive person
• Keep providing support, even if they refuse help.


If you or someone you know is feeling threatened or unsafe, call 000.

If you require further information or feel you’d like some confidential advice or support, you can contact the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192.

If you or your family has any concerns about your safety, Centacare offers a safe and supportive space for you to discuss your concerns.