In the year prior to the first national survey conducted into elder abuse, one in six older Australians reported they had experienced abuse most often committed by family members.
The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study (NEAPS) survey, carried out between February and May 2020, showed that the most common subtype was psychological abuse (12%), followed by neglect (3%), financial abuse (2%), physical abuse (2%) and sexual abuse (1%). Some of the 7,000 participants aged over 65 years reported several types of abuse occurring, usually psychological abuse and neglect.
Types of elder abuse
Nearly one in five elder abuse perpetrators are children (18%), or their partners or grandchildren and about one in 10 elder abuse perpetrators are intimate partners. Children (most often, sons) are most likely to perpetrate financial abuse as well as friends and service providers.
Children are also the largest group of perpetrators of psychological and physical abuse while friends, acquaintances and spouses were most likely to perpetrate sexual abuse.
Children and intimate partners are both significant perpetrator groups (24-25% for each) of neglect. Professional carers (14%) and service providers (13%) are bigger perpetrator groups for neglect than for other abuse subtypes.
Psychological abuse is not always recognized by either victims or perpetrators. It includes insulting, belittling or threatening behaviour towards a person. Family and friends are the best protection for a person experiencing abuse rather than the person who is unlikely to directly confront the perpetrator.
Factors that increase risk of abuse
While women were slightly more likely to be the subject of abuse than men, other factors increased the risk of experiencing abuse, namely, being poorer, being single, separated or divorced and living in rented housing or owning a house with a debt against it. Having poor physical or psychological health also increased the risk of experiencing abuse.
The study did not include people living in aged care or suffering cognitive decline which could increase the identified prevalence of elder abuse in the community.
The federal government has announced additional funding to build on the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older People. This announcement follows on from recommendations made by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to increase funding to home care packages and create new training places for aged care staff.
AIFS, National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/national-elder-abuse-prevalence-study