Elder Abuse: knowing the signs and where to get help

By Greg Cox and Krystal Bellamy / 14 June 2021
4 min.
Worthwhile read for: Individuals, Families, Attorneys, Guardians, Administrators

Tuesday, 15 June is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

The day serves as a salient reminder of the importance of older people having enduring attorneys in place who are implicitly trusted to act in their best interests.  As Australia’s ageing population continues to grow, it is further vital that, as a community, we are alert to the warning signs of elder abuse and what to do if we or someone we know confronts it.  

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse can take many forms including financial, physical, psychological and neglect. Elder abuse is defined by the World Health Organization as “A single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.”  

Prevalence of elder abuse

According to data collected by Queensland’s Elder Abuse Prevention Unit (EAPU) in the 2019-2020 year: 

  • almost all cases of abuse reported to the Elder Abuse Helpline occurred within family relationships (96.1% of cases);
  • the most common perpetrators were children (including in-laws) (70.9% of cases);
  • the most common types of abuse were psychological (75.6% of cases) and financial (68.5% of cases); 
  • about 42% of victims had actual or suspected impaired capacity;
  • the most common methods of perpetrating financial abuse were undue influence, misuse of debit and credit cards, and misuse of an Enduring Power of Attorney.  

Financial abuse

The EAPU defines financial abuse as “The illegal or improper use and/or mismanagement of a person’s money, property, or resources.”  Some of the warning signs of elder financial abuse include an older person:

  • struggling to pay for bills, medication or other necessities;
  • being blocked from accessing their bank accounts;
  • making changes to their Will;
  • seeming confused about the sale of a property and the reasons for it; or
  • complaining of savings and/or possessions disappearing.

What help is available?

If you suspect that an older person you know is being abused or you are experiencing elder abuse yourself (and there is no immediate risk of physical harm), there are steps you can take, including:

  • You can call the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192 for free confidential advice, assistance and support. The helpline is available from 9am to 5pm on Monday to Friday (voice messages can be left outside these hours). Calls are not recorded and you can remain anonymous. 
  • If the victim of the abuse lacks capacity for the matter in question and is domiciled in Queensland, you can make an anonymous referral to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). The OPG is an independent statutory office established to protect the rights, interests and wellbeing of adults with impaired decision-making capacity. The OPG can generally investigate allegations of neglect, exploitation or abuse (including financial abuse) and has wide investigative powers to gain access to relevant information, including medical and financial information and to require people to produce records/accounts.
  • In addition to the above, details of other agencies who can offer support and advice for victims of elder abuse, who have decision-making capacity, can be found here.
  • For victims outside Queensland, details of agencies who can help can be found here.
  • In all cases, if there is an immediate risk of harm to you or a victim of abuse, please call emergency services on 000.

Takeaway points

Elder abuse is sadly a growing problem.

While recognising the signs and seeking help are important, one of the best ways an older person can protect themselves from abuse is to appoint enduring attorneys that they trust to act in their best interests if they lose their own decision-making capacity.  For older people who may not have family members or friends that they can turn to, there are other options available.  In all cases, we would encourage older people to seek legal advice regarding their estate planning and to seek help if they fall victim to any form of elder abuse.

For more information about elder abuse, click here.  

If you would like assistance with making or updating an Enduring Power of Attorney, please contact our experienced Estates and Succession team

Greg Cox
Special Counsel
Greg is one of the leaders of HopgoodGanim’s Estates and Succession team and offers more than 30 years’ experience in estate planning, administration and litigation.
Krystal Bellamy
Senior Associate
Krystal is a Senior Associate in our Estates and Succession team.

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