There’s a myth that if it’s not physical violence, there is no abuse, but some abuse can be subtle and hard for outsiders to recognise.
There are 6 main types of abuse – financial, psychological, physical, social, neglect and sexual abuse. Anyone may experience elder abuse, and it doesn’t matter whether you live alone, with a partner or with family.
Firstly, financial abuse, which happens when someone takes or misuses your money, assets or property without your agreement. Having an Enduring Power of Attorney does not make this misuse right in the law.
Financial abuse can leave the older person feeling powerless and anxious. They may be uncertain of how their living costs will be covered if their funds fall outside their control.
It may start by convincing the older person they are no longer competent to manage their money. The abuser may threaten or punish an older person who refuses to give them money.
They may sell the older person’s property without consent. The abuser may shop for the older person and not return the change. Sometimes they borrow money and do not repay it. Living in an older person’s home while not contributing to the household costs can also be abusive.
When an older person loses some mobility and the confidence to shop independently, they can become open to financial abuse.
What can start as lending your EFTPOS card to someone for them to pay for your groceries, can end up with your money being misused and spent without your consent.
Financial abuse often happens alongside social abuse and psychological abuse.
Social abuse occurs when someone prevents the older person from having social contact with friends, family and their community.
It’s common for older people’s networks to decrease due to the death of loved ones, geographical moves and reduced mobility, so to stay socially connected as you age requires some hard work and planning.
When someone restricts your activity, isolation and depression can follow. Social abuse can be subtle. Someone may answer the phone for you and say you are too tired to take the call.
They may put your calls on speaker phone so you have no privacy. They may refuse social invitations on your behalf. Social abuse is about control.
Psychological abuse aims to cause emotional hurt or mental harm. Examples are if someone belittles you in public, calls you names or moves your belongings around at home so you feel confused.
This abuse can lead you to feel scared, threatened and worthless. It opens you up to more harm. Some factors that increase a person’s risk of abuse are conflict in the family, dependence on others for care, social isolation, stressful care relationships and remote living situations.
Other risk factors include poor literacy, a lack of awareness of your rights and having mature age children with a disability or health issues.
Age itself is a risk factor. Ageist attitudes can create a situation where a person’s situation is not seen clearly, and their concerns are dismissed. Another complicating factor is mental health problems or dementia.
To get help or advice you can call the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192. This helpline is part of Queensland’s Elder Abuse Prevention Unit.
It offers free assistance for anyone who suspects, witnesses or experiences elder abuse. All calls are confidential. You do not need to share your identity when you call.
Relationships Australia has an Elder Abuse and Prevention Support Service, phone 1300 063 232. Their service includes case management, referrals to legal practitioners and arranging mediation.
They can also help you develop a safety plan.
Kendall Morton is Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org