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Information for family, friends and carers

Elder abuse often happens behind closed doors but there are a range of signs that may indicate someone is experiencing elder abuse. If you suspect an older person is being abused, pay close attention and see if you can identify any of the behaviour changes below.

You may also notice a change in behaviour of a family member, friend or carer who is committing elder abuse. They may start making excuses to justify their abuse. A brother who has lost his job may justify pension skimming or stealing money by saying it’s going to be my money anyway’. Family who have moved in to take care of mum or dad may start talking about the house being their payment for looking after them. Your partner may excuse aggressive behaviour towards their parents by saying they know I’ve always had a temper. Always remember, there’s no excuse for elder abuse.

Listen out for the excuses made by people committing elder abuse and be alert to the behaviour changes in older people who are experiencing abuse that we’ve listed below. If you suspect someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, don’t wait for proof, call the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192  for advice and referral.

Behavioural signs

The following behavioural signs may indicate an older person is experiencing abuse.

  • Any sudden or radical change in behaviour
  • Fear of someone close to them
  • Irritability, shaking, trembling or crying
  • Depression or social withdrawal, talk of suicide
  • Lack of interest in getting involved in their usual interests
  • Changes to sleeping patterns or eating habits
  • Presenting as helpless, hopeless or sad
  • Contradictory statements not associated with mental confusion
  • Reluctance to talk openly
  • Deferral to another person to speak on their behalf
  • Worry or anxiety for no obvious reason

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Emotional abuse

Signs of emotional abuse include:

  • resignation
  • fear
  • shame
  • depression
  • passivity
  • anger
  • guilt
  • confusion
  • insomnia.

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Financial abuse

Signs of financial abuse include:

  • sudden inability to pay bills or rent
  • sale of property by an older person who seems confused about the reasons for the sale
  • lack of money for necessities
  • lack of money for social activities
  • depletion of savings
  • disappearance of possessions
  • loss of financial items e.g. bank books, credit cards, cheque books
  • irregular purchases an older person would not normally agree to
  • management of a seemingly competent older person’s finances by another person
  • signs of misuse of an Enduring Power of Attorney, with control over an older person’s property/financial affairs to the detriment of the older person’s welfare
  • signatures on documents/cheques not resembling the older person’s signature
  • reluctance to make a will or receive budget advice.

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Signs of neglect include:

  • malnourishment or dehydration
  • weight loss with no apparent medical cause
  • pallor, sunken eyes, cheeks
  • injuries that have not been properly cared for
  • poor personal hygiene including body odour and unkempt appearance
  • clothing that’s in poor repair or inappropriate for the weather
  • lack of safety precautions or supervision
  • absence of appropriate dentures, glasses or hearing aids when these are needed
  • older person abandoned or left unattended for long periods
  • medicines not purchased or administered
  • lack of social, cultural, intellectual or physical stimulation
  • hypothermia
  • signs that existing toiletries and personal hygiene products not used/replaced (e.g. old toothbrush with frayed bristles).

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Physical abuse

Signs of physical abuse include:

  • unexplained accidents or injuries
  • bruising and abrasions
  • facial swelling or missing teeth
  • burns
  • older person frequently seen by different doctors or hospitals
  • over or under medicating
  • conflicting accounts of injuries between the older person and their carers or family members.

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Elder Abuse Helpline

Free anonymous and confidential assistance between 9am–5pm, Monday to Friday

1300 651 192 (Queensland only)

(07) 3867 2525 (rest of Australia)

This helpline is funded by the Queensland Government and operated by UnitingCare Community.

An experienced and trained operator will help you identify the signs of abuse and provide referrals to the relevant support services.

In an emergency call triple zero (000).

Other support services