Elder abuse

Key issues and emerging evidence
CFCA Paper No. 51 – June 2019


Elder abuse is a complex phenomenon that involves a range of types of abuse perpetrated against older people. Currently, there are no data on the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia, with best estimates suggesting that between 2% and 14% of older Australians may experience some form of abuse every year. As the existing research literature makes clear, there is a wide range of factors relating to victims, perpetrators, relationships and contexts that may be associated with elder abuse. However, very little research is available to help inform practical responses to prevent or intervene to mitigate these risks and reduce the occurrence or recurrence of abuse.

Ageism and intergenerational conflict have emerged as major themes that some researchers have suggested may influence broader patterns of elder abuse in Australia. In response, many have suggested that greater efforts are needed to ensure that older people are valued and feel included in Australian society, communities and families. Social isolation and poor quality relationships - particularly between family members - have also emerged as factors that strongly influence the risk of abuse for older adults. Conversely, these issues are also promising sites for future prevention and intervention strategies that aim to mitigate these risks and prevent elder abuse from occurring.

Implications for policy and practice

Policy makers should consider the primary, secondary and tertiary interventions outlined in this paper and how they may be implemented at the various national, state/territory, system, community, organisational and programmatic levels. As national policy is strengthened through the implementation of the National Plan to address elder abuse, policy makers working at all levels should consider coordinated approaches to developing education and awareness strategies, supporting workforce development initiatives and building an evidence base to support evidence-informed practices.

Service providers and practitioners should also consider secondary and tertiary interventions outlined in this paper that target particular at-risk populations to prevent and respond to elder abuse. In recognition of the complex nature of elder abuse, service providers should consider working with others to develop multidisciplinary approaches that respond to the complex needs of at-risk older adults, perpetrators and family members.

This paper highlights a need for research on the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia, and its associated dynamics and risk factors, to inform policies and practices that aim to address elder abuse. It also highlights the need for research and evaluation on specific prevention and intervention strategies and programs to give a clearer understanding of what works to protect and promote the dignity of older Australians.