Elder abuse

Elder abuse

Key issues and emerging evidence

Adam Dean

CFCA Paper No. 51 — June 2019
Lonely senior lady sitting in restaurant and looking through window

If you have concerns about potential or actual elder abuse, call the national 1800 ELDERHelp line on 1800 353 374. This service provides information on how you can access help, support and referrals in your area. 

If you are experiencing a crisis and need to talk to a trained professional, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

If you believe a person is in immediate danger, call Police on 000.


Elder abuse is a multifaceted and often hidden form of abuse. There is currently no national data on the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia. Based on international studies, it is estimated that between 2% and 14% of older people in high- or middle-income countries experience elder abuse every year. The term 'elder abuse' covers a range of harmful behaviours, including physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse and neglect.

This paper provides an overview of elder abuse in Australia. It discusses key issues involved in how elder abuse is defined and examines its prevalence, impact and associated risk factors, with a focus on implications of recent research for policy and practice.

Key messages

Elder abuse is a complex phenomenon that takes many forms, including physical, psychological, sexual and financial abuse and neglect.

An estimated 2-14% of older people in high- or middle-income countries are victims of abuse or neglect every year. Prevalence rates are likely to be much higher in institutional care settings than in community settings.

A range of factors associated with older people, perpetrators, relationships and broader contextual factors contribute to older people's risk of abuse and neglect. Emerging evidence suggests that social isolation and poor quality relationships are among the main risk factors associated with elder abuse in community settings.

Social support and healthy relationships with family members are key protective factors for older people at risk of abuse or neglect.

Research and evaluation on specific prevention and intervention strategies are needed to give a clearer understanding of what works to protect and promote the dignity of older Australians.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Adam Dean is a Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The author wishes to acknowledge and thank Rachel Carson, John Chesterman and Frances Byers for their review and expert feedback on this paper. The author also wishes to thank Karen Broadley, Joanne Commerford, Lixia Qu, Dinika Roopani and Amanda Coleiro for their feedback and advice during the process.

Featured image: © GettyImages/suzanamarinkovic

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 51
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, June 2019.
28 pp.

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