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Elder Abuse Hits Close to Home – Elder Abuse Awareness 15-22 June

Elder Abuse Awareness Week from 15-22 June 2017 begins on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June 2017.

During the week of 15-22 June 2017 local Age Concerns around New Zealand will be holding events and speaking through the media to raise awareness of elder abuse and neglect.
Unfortunately Age Concern elder abuse statistics show:

  • More than three quarters of alleged abusers are family members
  • More than half of the alleged abusers are adult children and grandchildren
  • Alleged abusers are as likely to be female as male

What is elder abuse and neglect?

Elder Abuse and Neglect 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.[1]

Elder abuse is a violation of Human Rights and a significant cause of injury, illness, lost productivity, isolation and despair.

What does Age Concern do to prevent elder abuse and neglect?

Age Concern offers free, confidential, specialist Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Services in 23 centres throughout New Zealand.  They also provide education about elder abuse for those working with older people/ kaumātua and other interested groups.

There are 7 other providers of Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Services which are supported by Age Concern.

Age Concern works with other agencies such as health services, needs assessment services, the police, and banks to ensure the best possible outcome for the older person/ kaumātua.

“Confronting and reducing elder abuse requires a multisectoral and multidisciplinary approach”

Active Ageing, A Policy Framework, WHO, 2002

10 tips to promote respect and prevent abuse

  • Love and cherish your older relatives/whānau
  • Speak respectfully to older people/ kaumātua
  • Include older people/ kaumātua in your social activities
  • Phone or visit your older relatives/whanau
  • Support older people/ kaumātua to spend their money how they wish
  • Encourage and support older people/ kaumātua to make their own decisions
  • Honour older people’s/ kaumātua’s wisdom
  • Enable older people/ kaumātua to set their own pace
  • Respect older people’s/ kaumātua’s stories
  • Seek advice from an Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Service when you think an older person/ kaumātua is being abused or neglected

What does it look like when an older person is treated with dignity and respect?

Older people/ kaumātua…

  • Are valued for who they are and treated fairly
  • Live safely, free of exploitation and abuse
  • Receive the care and support they need
  • Make their own decisions
  • Have their physical, spiritual, cultural and emotional needs met
  • Are included in conversations
  • Are part of their community

What does elder abuse look like?

It is common for several types of abuse occur together.  The types of abuse include:

Psychological Abuse

Actions and words that cause misery, anxiety or fear.  For example:

  • ridicule and humiliation
  • threats, coercion and bullying
  • control, social isolation and prevention of choice
  • hostility and lack of affection

Financial Abuse

Illegal or improper use of money, property or other assets.  For example:

  • unauthorised taking of money or possessions
  • misuse of power of attorney
  • failure to repay loans
  • use of home and assets without contributing to costs.
  • scams that rely on establishing a relationship with the older person with the intention of exploiting their savings and/or assets, e.g. romance scams

Physical Abuse

Infliction of pain, injury or use of force.  For example:

  • hitting, pushing, rough handling
  • over-medication
  • inappropriate use of restraints or confinement. 


Not providing for physical, emotional or social needs. For example:

  • inadequate food, clothing, shelter
  • lack of social contact, support
  • health needs not attended to.

Sexual Abuse

Non-consensual sexual acts or exploitive behaviours. For example:

  • inappropriate touching
  • sexual acts which are not wanted

Institutional Abuse

A policy or accepted practice within an organisation that does not respect a person’s rights or causes them harm or distress. For example:

  • rigid routines that disregard a person’s culture or customs
  • rationing of continence products

How prevalent is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is a global problem. It is difficult to know exactly how common elder abuse is, as most goes unreported.  An analysis of data from the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing concluded that 10% of the population aged over 65 years who are living in the community experience abuse.[2]  International studies report that 3% – 10% of older people experience abuse or neglect each year.  It happens to men and women of every religious, cultural, ethnic and socio-economic group.

However, much abuse goes unreported.  It has been estimated that only 1 in 14 of all abuse incidents come to the attention of a service agency that can intervene to help stop the abuse. [3]

What are the effects of elder abuse?

The personal losses associated with abuse can be devastating and include the loss of independence, homes, lifesavings, health, dignity, and security.[4]

Abuse can reduce a person’s independence by undermining their self-esteem and confidence.  It also damages family/whānau relationships, financial security, and mental and physical health, increasing dependency on health and support agencies which may result in the need for residential care. [5]

Why don’t older people seek help when they are abused?

Some of the reasons why an older person/kaumātua does not tell anyone about the abuse are:

  • They depend on the abuser for support
  • They have low self-confidence and self-esteem
  • They don’t want to make a fuss
  • They are afraid that if they complain the abuse will get worse
  • They are isolated, so that it is difficult for them to tell anyone
  • They do not know who to tell or how to get help
  • They have dementia or an illness prevents them from telling anyone
  • They blame themselves for the abuse
  • They are ashamed that the abuser is a family/whānau member

How can I tell if someone is being abused or neglected?

The following signs MAY indicate an older person/kaumātua is being abused:

  • unexplained behaviour, sleeping or eating habits
  • fearfulness and edginess
  • confusion
  • unexplained injuries
  • drowsiness (due to over-medication)
  • recoiling from touch
  • unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
  • unpaid bills, lack of money for necessities

 “Ultimately the challenge for us all is not only to listen to what has been said, but to believe and act upon it” (Missing Voices, INPEA and WHO, 2002).

If you or an older person/kaumātua you know is being abused contact your nearest Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Service.

Contact details for all services are available at: www.ageconcern.org.nz

[2]     Charles Waldegrave, Measuring Elder Abuse in New Zealand: Findings from the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing, http://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/about-msd/our-structure/osc/elder-abuse-technical-report.pdf

[3]     National Research Council, Elder mistreatment: Abuse, neglect and exploitation in an aging America. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2003

[4]     National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, What is Elder Abuse? (© 2008)

[5]     Ministry of Health & Age Concern New Zealand, Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Elder Abuse and Neglect, 2007, p 14.

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.