Elder abuse - when you have concerns
At different times, elder abuse may cause a range of concerns. You may suspect that something is not right, or there may be behaviours or circumstances which make you feel anxious, distressed or fearful.
Even if you are not certain that it is elder abuse, learning to recognise the signs and risk factors and the following information may help guide you if you have concerns:
- Help for families and friends
- Help for carers
- Help for people from diverse backgrounds
- What to say when you are concerned
- Why older people may not want to talk about elder abuse?
- What if the person does not want assistance?
- Where can I report abuse?
Elder abuse can be difficult to deal with or talk about openly. Deception, intimidation and fear are often used to keep the abuse hidden or silent.
If you have concerns, it’s important to be aware of why older people may not want to talk about elder abuse or what you can do if a person does not want your assistance.
In some cases the older person may not be ready to discuss their concerns, or they may not be aware they are being abused. Tips about what to say when you are concerned can help you to start a conversation. Keep in mind that conversations should be kept confidential and occur in a safe place when opportunity allows.
If you think a crime has been committed, consider contacting police on 131 444 to discuss your concerns. A record of what you discuss may be kept and be referred to at a later date.
If there is an immediate threat to the safety of an older person, this is an emergency and you should call police on 000.
There are many reasons why an older person may be at risk of elder abuse by a carer. Examples of actions which cross the line include:
- borrowing money and not paying it back
- restricting contact with friends
- restricting religious practices
- not involving the person in making decisions
- inadequate clothing, care, food and housing
- deception, guilt and intimidation
- locking an older person in a room or using medication to sedate them
Be it deliberate or unintended, elder abuse is unacceptable. If you are responsible for the care and wellbeing of an older person learning about elder abuse, signs and indicators and elder abuse risk factors can help you recognise the warning signs and put a stop to elder abuse before it occurs or escalates.
Learn more about:
- Safeguards for carers at risk (Carers SA)
- Safeguards against financial abuse (Carers SA)
- Knowing Your Rights – A Guide to the Rights of Older South Australians (PDF 1MB)
For more information and confidential advice contact:
Elder abuse may look different for older people and families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Cultural values and beliefs, including our own, influence the way elder abuse is perceived and responded to.
Care and respect of older Aboriginal people and Aboriginal Elders is a very important part of Aboriginal culture and society. They are responsible for passing down from generation to generation life lessons, storylines, histories, songs and obligations. Elder abuse a very complex and sensitive issue. It is recommended that you seek help if you have concerns.
For more information:
- Elder abuse – Older People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds (PDF 124KB)
- Elder abuse – Older People from Aboriginal Backgrounds (PDF 284KB)
- Department of Human Services SA website
- Call the South Australian Elder Abuse Prevention Phone Line on 1800 372 310.
The following are good tips to remember when communicating with someone you think may be experiencing elder abuse. If you are not sure, it is recommended that you contact the South Australian Elder Abuse Prevention Phone Line on 1800 372 310 for confidential support and information.
Do not criticise the abuser or older person for tolerating the abuse. This can make the older person feel defensive and not want to discuss it further. There are many reasons why a person may live in a situation where they are being abused. Focus on the importance of the older person’s safety and wellbeing, and that help is available.
Listen, acknowledge, support
Acknowledge how the person is feeling. Reassure them that you believe them and that the abuse is not their fault. Remind them that help and support is available. Support them even they refuse help initially. Help may be accepted later when they feel more confident.
Help identify steps they can take
Prior to any action, it is important to not jeopardise the person’s safety. Even if a person does talk about it, they may need your help to get things started. It may help to know who or what agency to speak to, what options are available, or even help the older person identify or collect evidence.
Isolation is a known risk factor for elder abuse. Encourage the person to stay connected to other people and to activities outside of the home. It is important for people to have a trusted person they can speak to or talk to if elder abuse becomes a reality.
Connect with people who can provide help and guidance
Elder abuse can raise complex social and legal issues. Reassure the person that help is available. Encourage them and ask them how you can best support them.
Many reasons may prevent or deter someone speaking up or talking to someone they trust:
- feeling embarrassed and ashamed about the actions of a family member
- not aware of who to talk to or actions to take
- lack of understanding of abuse and legal and human rights
- not aware of abuse or does not identify situation as abuse
- feeling responsible for the abuse
- dependency on the abuser for food, shelter, clothing, and health care
- fear of retaliation – afraid of what will happen if the person abusing finds out
- fear of being placed residential aged care
- feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness
- belief that there are no agencies which can help them
- lack of opportunity to talk about the abuse.
If you are concerned, don’t delay and talk to someone you trust, or contact the South Australian Elder Abuse Prevention Phone Line on 1800 372 310 for confidential support and advice.
Even though a person may feel distress, or fear or frustration, it is not uncommon for people to decline assistance.It is not uncommon for a person to deny the abuse or to protect or defend the abuser. Even if you do not agree with the person’s decision, below are some tips which may support them to find resolution:
- communicate your concerns, and that you are available to discuss the abuse with them when they are ready
- offer to contact another relative or friend who may be able to support
- provide information and means for the older person to contact appropriate support organisations
- offer to call the South Australian Elder Abuse Prevention Phone Line for free confidential advice on their behalf.
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