The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study
Elder abuse poses a significant concern in Australia, necessitating policy attention, particularly due to the country’s ageing demographic. According to projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the population of individuals aged over 65 years is expected to double to approximately 9 million within the next 25 years.
To address the issue, the Attorney-General’s Department, as part of the National Plan to Tackle Elder Abuse, initiated the National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study (NEAPS). This study stands as the primary national survey and the most comprehensive investigation into elder abuse in the country.
The report provides an overview of the outcomes derived from the Survey of Older People (SOP), a nationally representative study involving 7,000 individuals aged 65 and above, residing in community dwellings. Fieldwork for this survey occurred from February 12 to May 1, 2020.
The survey delved into the prevalence and characteristics of elder abuse, identifying the demographics most susceptible to mistreatment, the perpetrators involved, and the responses of affected individuals.
However, the study does not encompass certain demographics, including individuals in residential care settings and those with cognitive impairments, warranting further research into elder abuse within these specific groups.
- A significant proportion (15%) of older Australians faced abuse within the year preceding a survey conducted from February to May 2020.
- Elder abuse encompasses various forms: psychological (12%), neglect (3%), financial (2%), physical (2%), and sexual (1%) mistreatment.
- Perpetrators of elder abuse are commonly family members, particularly adult children, although friends, neighbours, and acquaintances can also be involved.
- Individuals with compromised physical or psychological health and increased social isolation are more susceptible to elder abuse.
- A majority of older individuals (61%) do not seek assistance when subjected to abuse.
Do Abused and Neglected Elders Seek Help?
Just over one-third of individuals who experience elder abuse opt to seek assistance or guidance.
The survey enquired about whether those who experienced elder abuse sought help or advice, or took action to stop the abuse. The majority did not seek help or advice, with only 36% reaching out to formal or informal support channels.
Nevertheless, 8 out of 10 individuals do take some form of action to stop the abuse. The most common action involves directly conversing with the perpetrator (half of the respondents). Another prevalent action is severing contact or avoiding the perpetrator (4 out of 10 individuals).
This is worrisome as it could exacerbate the impact of the abuse by intensifying the isolation of the elderly person. Moreover, it suggests potential limitations in the availability of effective methods to address the abuse. Furthermore, it implies a lack of consequences for the abuser.
Responses and Seeking Help Differ by Abuse Subtypes
The initiative to stop abuse and seek assistance in abusive situations varies across different abuse subtypes.
Actions are most prevalent concerning physical abuse (93%) and least prevalent in cases of neglect (63%). The proportions of individuals taking action to stop psychological, sexual, and financial abuse are relatively similar (ranging from 79% to 85%).
Regarding financial abuse, only 30% reported seeking help or advice, yet nearly 8 out of 10 took measures to stop the abuse. Close to 6 out of 10 individuals mentioned directly confronting the perpetrator. When other measures were taken to stop the abuse, severing contact was the most common (30%). Taking legal action was more frequently reported in this subtype of abuse (14%) compared to others.
For physical abuse, half of the victims sought help or advice, while over 9 out of 10 individuals took action to stop the abuse. The most prevalent actions to stop physical abuse involved severing contact with the perpetrator (64%) and directly addressing the person (61%).
Sexual abuse exhibited the lowest rate of seeking help or advice, with only one-quarter of respondents doing so. However, 84% took action to stop the abuse. Speaking directly to the perpetrator (58%) and avoiding contact with them (48%) were common actions. Seeking legal protection or advice from a lawyer was exceedingly rare (each at 1%).
Concerning psychological abuse, 4 out of 10 sought help or advice, while 85% took action to stop the abuse. Severing contact (49%) was nearly as common as directly addressing the person (52%) as actions to stop the abuse.
Neglect stood out as the subtype of abuse for which seeking help and advice were least likely (20%). Similarly, actions to stop neglect were least likely to be taken, with two-thirds of respondents reporting some form of action, most commonly by directly addressing the responsible person (48%).
Available Support Channels
Recognising the severity of the issue, Australia has established support channels to help prevent and address elder abuse, providing assistance and protection to senior citizens who find themselves in abusive situations. These support channels include:
- Elder Abuse Helpline: Australia has a dedicated national helpline, 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374), where seniors, their families, and concerned individuals can report abuse, seek information, and access support services. It operates 24/7, providing a critical lifeline for those in distress.
- Aged Care Assessment Teams (ACAT): ACAT teams conduct comprehensive assessments of older individuals’ care needs, including assessing for elder abuse. They play a pivotal role in identifying and addressing cases of abuse and neglect.
- Legal Aid Services: Legal Aid services are available to provide legal assistance to older individuals who have experienced abuse, especially in cases involving financial exploitation or legal matters.
- Family, Friends, and Community: Encouraging an open dialogue among family members, friends, and the community can help identify signs of elder abuse. Communities can provide support and protection for senior citizens who may be at risk.
- Aged Care Facilities: Staff in aged care facilities and nursing homes are trained to identify and report elder abuse. They are responsible for ensuring the well-being and safety of their residents.
- Community Legal Centres: Many community legal centres offer services tailored to elder abuse, providing advice, support, and legal assistance to victims.
- Respectful Relationships Education: This proactive approach focuses on educating older Australians and their communities about the importance of respectful relationships and the prevention of abuse.
- Counselling and Support Services: Various counselling and support services are available to help elder abuse victims cope with the emotional trauma associated with their experience.
- Financial Institutions: Banks and financial institutions have a role to play in identifying and preventing financial abuse. They can implement measures to detect unusual financial transactions and report potential abuse.
- Government Initiatives: The Australian government is committed to addressing elder abuse through initiatives such as the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians, which aims to provide coordinated support and response to elder abuse.
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Elder abuse is a serious issue, affecting a significant number of seniors. Recognising and addressing this problem is essential to ensure the safety and well-being of senior Australians.
Prevention efforts, including awareness campaigns and fostering respectful relationships, are equally important to curb the problem at its roots.
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DISCLAIMER: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute official medical advice. The Australian Seniors Advisory Group has no relations with any domestic abuse support and counselling programme.