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Elder abuse: The telltale signs

Written by:
Elle Dalzell
Legal Practice Manager, Senior Solicitor

In the 1976, only 9% of the Australian population was over the age of 65. Now, elderly Australians make up a considerable portion of our population with over 1 in 7 people aged 65 and over.

Rise in population, rise in abuse

While the increase in the numbers of people aged over 65 is partly the happy result of greater longevity, it comes with an alarming rise in instances of a related problem – elder abuse.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is a term used to describe an act or omission that inflicts harm towards the elderly. It can take the form of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, as well as financial exploitation, abandonment and neglect.

Sadly, recognition of this abuse often comes too late. There are, however, important warning signs for family, friends and carers to look out for so they can be armed and ready to protect their loved ones from people looking to take advantage of them.


Financial abuse:

Individuals who fall victim to financial abuse are often already in a vulnerable state and cannot adequately handle their monetary affairs. This makes it difficult for victims to report the abuse or for onlookers to identify it.

Tell-tale signs of financial abuse include:

  • Unexplained changes in financial situations, such as not being able to cover regular expenses
  • Large withdrawals from bank accounts, and
  • Unexplained disappearance of belongings.

Medical abuse:

Medical abuse is most commonly experienced in nursing homes and hospitals and covers situations where an elderly resident or patient is inadequately cared for.

Indicators of medical abuse to look out for include:

  • Inadequate clothing or heating / cooling
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Skin diseases, infections or bruises
  • Insufficient hygiene practices leading to unnecessary conditions (mouth infections from poor oral hygiene for example)
  • Pressure sores, bedsores or blisters from lack of movement, and
  • Dramatic, unexplained weight loss.

Physical abuse:

In environments where family and friends are not around 24/7, loved ones may be subjected to physical abuse or rough handling.

Signs that physical abuse may be occurring include:

  • Evidence of rough handling
  • Cuts, sprains, broken bones, bruises or hair loss, and
  • Overuse of a medication to sedate or restrain the person.

Psychological abuse:

Elder abuse is not always physical, and psychological abuse can have devastating impacts on an individual’s quality of life.

Loved ones should be wary of the following signs:

  • Sudden increase in anxiety, depression, sadness or anger, and
  • Fearfulness of certain people or situations.

Put a stop to elder abuse

Mistreatment of the most vulnerable members of society is never acceptable. It's time we gave these victims a voice.

If you suspect that a family member or friend is being mistreated, it’s important to report this abuse to the police and seek legal advice to remedy the abuse. Our team of abuse law experts can listen to your story and guide you on the next best steps for your situation. Get in touch today.

Related content: 

A version of this article appears on Starts at 60.

Written by Elle Dalzell. Last modified: February 17, 2020.

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