Elder Abuse


The definition of elder abuse used by the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit is:

"Elder Abuse is 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”

This definition was developed in the United Kingdom in 1993 by Action on Elder Abuse and has been adopted by the World Health Organisation and the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.  A key point to note about this definition is the 'expectation of trust'.

For the purposes of the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit, abuse is therefore not considered to include self-neglect, ie the failure to provide for one's own needs and well being, nor does it include crimes committed by unknown perpetrators.

The different categories of abuse are described more fully in other areas of this site (see menu to the righ of screen). Assessments of a potential or actual situation of abuse should also take account of the cultural context in which it has occurred.

Some Issues

Elder Abuse is a relatively recent term for a form of mistreatment that, in reality, is just one part of a spectrum of violence that occurs when differences in power exist in relationships between people. Simply put, where there is an imbalance of power in a relationship there is a risk of abuse occurring from the dominant person or persons. These power differences have been interpreted, particularly in relation to domestic violence, as the result of living in a patriarchal or male orientated society where males and male values dominate.

This type of gendered analysis of power and violence can easily be justified by noting that, in all age groups, the majority of those being abused are female while the abusers are mainly male. However, this gendered view of violence and abuse becomes blurred somewhat when the abuse occurs in older populations.

Even though there are more women than men in older populations, older women are still more likely to be abused than older men. A major 1998 incidence study conducted by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA*) found that overall a disproportionate number of older women were victims of abuse compared to men, although older men were more likely to be victims of abandonment. However women also represented nearly half (47.5%) of the perpetrators of abuse in this NCEA study while adult sons and daughters combined to create the single biggest category of abusers. This would suggest that there are more factors than gender at work in elder abuse situations.

Other than gender, age discrimination or 'Ageism' is a factor that should be considered when discussing abuse in older populations. Certainly in western societies there appears to be a general negative attitude towards ageing and older people, a manifestation of which is the often patronising stereotypes of older people portrayed by the media. These attitudes create a fertile ground for age discrimination and like any form of discrimination it devalues and disempowers the group it is directed against.

The existing discrimination faced by minority groups also compound the effects of ageism. Other factors such as language barriers, access to culturally appropriate services, lack of a support infrastructure within some community groups, and so on, make detecting and responding appropriately to abuse in these communities a major challenge. Rural and remote communities within Queensland present another set of challenges associated with distance, availability and access to services and the understated issue of maintaining confidentiality within small community groups.

Responding to abuse in older populations therefore requires a very flexible and community based approach to accommodate the different types of abuse, various cultural groupings and the remote communities that occur within Queensland. The EAPU has assisted with the implementation of Coordinated Community Responses (CCRs) in various communities in QLD and continues to support and resource these communities via participation in activites, meetings and assistance with a variety of projects.

*NCEA figures were based on an analysis of nearly 60,000 substantiated incidents of elder abuse in the U.S. This study can be found at the NCEA web site.