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Help someone experiencing elder abuse

If you’ve heard someone making excuses for elder abuse, or noticed the signs of elder abuse on someone you know personally or as a client, customer or patient, you can help.

You don’t have to have proof to seek help. The Elder Abuse Helpline will work with you to determine whether or not the behaviour you’re concerned about and the signs you’ve picked up are elder abuse. It is better to act on your suspicions than let the abuse continue while waiting for proof. As elder abuse is so often hidden or downplayed due to stigma, that proof may never arrive. 

Elder Abuse Helpline

If you think someone you know is being abused, call UnitingCare Community’s Elder Abuse Helpline 1300 651 192 for confidential advice (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).

What the helpline does and doesn’t do

The helpline operates as a first port of call for anyone who experiences, witnesses or suspects abuse of an older person by someone they know and trust.

The issues around elder abuse are complex and often multilayered which can cause strong feelings of being overwhelmed, confused, angry, sad, helpless and, sometimes, the thought that there is nobody to turn to and no options. The helpline offers a safe opportunity for callers to gain some clarity about the issue, safely talk through their concerns, assess risk, examine relationship dynamics, ask questions and find out about support services, safety plans and individual strategies to address the abuse.

The helpline increasingly receives calls from service providers, GPs, psychiatrists and psychologists, social workers and other allied health teams, police officers and service providers who wish to talk through a current issue/case and brainstorm ideas and potential solution. 

The Elder Abuse Prevention Unit has no powers of investigation, is not a reporting agency and does not undertake case-management.

What happens when I call?

A trained staff member will speak to you about the situation you are concerned about. They will discuss the different types of elder abuse which may be being perpetrated against the older person and provide advice for how you can help them as well as other local services that may be able to provide support.

The Elder Abuse Helpline is committed to providing information that is relevant to the individual case being reported. This includes providing advice which is culturally and linguistically appropriate. One way they do this is by providing access to interpreters for callers to their service.

Can I make an anonymous call?

Calls are confidential and anyone who calls the helpline may choose to remain anonymous, which allows those who are unsure of what they are witnessing, or older people who are not wishing to take action, to receive information and support without fear of reprisal. If you make an anonymous report, the helpline staff member will provide advice for how the caller can take action as well as any necessary referrals or advice.

See Dorothy’s story below for an example of how the Elder Abuse Helpline manages anonymous reports.

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Other support services

In an emergency call triple zero (000)

If someone you know is experiencing elder abuse you can call a Seniors Legal and Support Service near you, where a solicitor and social worker may provide you with free legal and support services, or refer you to a service in your local area.

  • Brisbane: (07) 3214 6333
  • Cairns: 1800 650 931 or (07) 4031 7179
  • Hervey Bay: (07) 4124 6863
  • Toowoomba: (07) 4616 9700
  • Townsville: (07) 4721 5511

Office of the Public Guardian

1300 653 187 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, local call cost).

The Office of the Public Guardian protects the rights and interests of adults who are unable to make decisions for themselves. The Public Guardian is empowered under legislation to investigate when it is suspected a senior with impaired capacity is being neglected, abused or exploited.

Public Trustee

For 100 years the Public Trustee  has been helping Queenslanders plan for the future.

With over 550 staff, located at 16 regional offices across the state, they provide a range of services to Queenslanders including Will making, Enduring Powers of Attorney, Executor and Financial Administration services. To make an appointment visit the Public Trustee website or call 1300 360 044.

Other confidential advice and support services

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24-hour crisis support line)
  • Legal Aid Queensland: 1300 651 188 (8.30am to 5pm)
  • DVConnect Womensline: 1800 811 811 (24 hours, seven days a week)
  • DVConnect Mensline: 1800 600 636 (9 am to midnight, seven days a week)

If you know someone experiencing elder abuse, don’t wait—access help now.

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Practical ways to support someone

Here are some other ways you can provide support to someone experiencing elder abuse.

  • Invite them to talk in a place where they are alone and safe.
  • Take their concerns seriously and listen to what they have to say.
  • Let them know the abuse is not their fault.
  • Let them know about the Elder Abuse Helpline and other services that can offer confidential help.
  • Help them with transport, appointments and a place of refuge if they feel unsafe.
  • Respect their right to make their own decisions and understand they may not be ready to take action.
  • If they don’t want to talk, reassure them that you will stand by them, and will be ready to talk or help, when they ask.
  • Don’t be critical or make negative comments about the abusive person.
  • Don’t confront the abuser about their behaviour as this may escalate the risk of harm to all.
  • If you witness violence, or are worried the older person is at immediate risk, call the police immediately on triple zero (000).

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Common concerns about seeking help

ConcernPoints to conside
It’s none of my business. Elder abuse is everyone’s business. If you know someone who is being abused, you have a responsibility to help.
But there’s no physical violence. Elder abuse is not just physical abuse. It also includes emotional abuse, financial abuse and neglect. All forms of elder abuse can have serious impacts on an older person’s health and wellbeing.
I don’t know what to say. Start by asking general questions such as ’How are things going at home?’ or ’You haven’t seemed yourself lately, is everything ok?’ Showing you are concerned and willing to listen is a good start. The Elder Abuse Helpline can help you plan your approach.
I might make things worse. Doing nothing will not make things better—abuse often gets worse over time. The Elder Abuse Helpline can help you develop a plan.

I’m not 100 per cent sure it is elder abuse.

I don’t have proof of the abuse.

If you notice any of the signs of elder abuse, call the Elder Abuse Helpline for advice. If someone you know is being abused and you choose not to act, you might regret not taking the opportunity to help later. The Elder Abuse Helpline is a confidential service where you can ask questions and discuss your concerns.
If they wanted my help they would ask. There are many barriers that may prevent help-seeking. For example, the older person may be too ashamed or afraid to ask for help.
What happens in the privacy of the home is a family matter.  It isn’t when someone is being hurt. It’s wrong and you have a responsibility to help.

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Personal stories

The following stories are drawn from the experiences of callers to the Elder Abuse Helpline. All names have been changed.

Dorothy’s story

A woman who wished to remain anonymous phoned the Elder Abuse Helpline about her neighbour Dorothy, a 78-year-old woman on a war widow’s pension. Dorothy’s 23-year-old grandson Peter, a violent drug-user, had moved in about six months before and the neighbour had heard him shouting fiercely at Dorothy and threatening her.

The caller also mentioned that Dorothy no longer chatted over the fence, was rarely seen outside the house and seemed physically frailer and very nervous.

The helpline operator explained that shouting and threats were abuse and police should always be called when this occurred. The neighbour was also advised to invite Dorothy back to her place for a cuppa and from there, encourage Dorothy to call the helpline anonymously.

After a tearful and emotional call, Dorothy found the strength to tackle her fear and sense of family obligation and decided to ask a trusted family member to move in and control Peter’s behaviour. She also had her neighbour as a safety measure and was given contact details for services that could assist.

Susan and Aunty Jean’s story

Susan phoned the Elder Abuse Helpline for advice as she was worried about her Aunty Jean a 75-year-old widowed pensioner. Jean had lived alone until some months previously when her son Frank moved in after his marriage broke up.

When she visited, Susan noticed her aunt was looking very frail and had lost a lot of weight. Jean also seemed to be anxious and distracted and had apparently stopped taking part in her usual social and voluntary activities. She said she no longer had time for those things. During the conversation, she also mentioned that Frank was out of work and spent most of the day on the couch watching television and drinking beer. At the time of Susan’s visit, Frank appeared to be intoxicated and stayed in the lounge room in front of the television. While Jean and Susan were talking, he yelled out aggressively for Jean to get him some lunch. She jumped up quickly and took some food into him.

Susan told the helpline operator she was concerned about her aunt but was reluctant to interfere. The operator explained that being bullied and taken advantage of emotionally and financially in a family relationship was domestic and family violence and her aunt could be at risk. The operator advised Susan to invite Jean to her place for lunch as soon as possible to create an opportunity for her to speak freely and from there, encourage her to phone the helpline to discuss the situation at home, safety issues and what her options were. The operator also suggested that Susan talk to other family members about her concerns.

Susan said she would immediately ask Jean over for lunch the next day and have the helpline number ready. She also said she would ask Frank’s brother to talk to him and if necessary arrange some professional support to help him get back on his feet, including finding a job and a place of his own. On the operator’s advice, Susan also agreed to contact a local Home and Community Care (HACC) worker to ask about services that could be available to her aunt. As an additional support measure, Susan said she would contact other members of the family to arrange more regular visits and phone contact with Jean.

Barb and Aunty Jill’s story

Barb called the Elder Abuse Helpline to seek advice as she was worried about her Aunty Jill, an Aboriginal woman from rural Queensland. Aunty Jill was staying at her daughter’s house while her daughter was in hospital as a result of a serious car accident.

Barb was concerned that her aunt was being ripped off financially by her teenage grandchildren while she stayed at her daughter’s house. Barb said the grandchildren were out of control, not going to school and taking their gran’s key card each pension payday and taking all the money out of the account. Barb said Aunty Jill was very frail and in poor health and going through an extremely emotional time as she dealt with her daughter’s accident. Barb agreed to be recontacted and provided her details to the helpline operator.

After speaking with Barb, the Elder Abuse Helpline spoke confidentially to an Aboriginal Home and Community Care (HACC) worker who knew the family but was unaware of the situation. The HACC worker organised for an Aboriginal youth service to visit the children, and also began to put family and other supports in place for the grandmother. The helpline operator recontacted Barb to let her know about the processes put in place to help her aunt and provided contact details for the HACC worker if she needed further support.

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Contacts

Elder Abuse Helpline

9am–5pm, Monday to Friday

1300 651 192 (Queensland only)

(07) 3867 2525 (rest of Australia)

This Queensland Government funded helpline is run by UnitingCare Community.

Free anonymous and confidential advice for anyone experiencing elder abuse or who suspects someone they know may be experiencing elder abuse.

In an emergency call the police on triple zero (000).

Other support services

Theres no excuse for elder abuse video

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