Elder abuse

Elder abuse

Understanding issues, frameworks and responses

Rae Kaspiew, Rachel Carson and Helen Rhoades

Research Report No. 35 — February 2016
Elder abuse: Understanding issues, frameworks and responses

This report provides an overview of elder abuse in Australia - including its characteristics, context, and prevention. First, it considers definitional issues and what is known about prevalence and incidence, risk and protective factors, and the dynamics surrounding disclosure and reporting. The report then sets out evidence on the demographic and socio-economic features of the Australian community that are relevant to understanding social dynamics that may influence elder abuse, including intergenerational wealth transfer and the systemic structures that intersect with elder abuse. Lastly, the report considers legislative and service responses and Australian and overseas approaches to prevention.

Support services are available if you want to talk to someone about elder abuse.

Key messages

Although evidence about the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia is lacking it is likely that between 2% and 10% of older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year, and the prevalence of neglect is possibly higher.

The available evidence suggests that most elder abuse is intra-familial and intergenerational, with mothers most often being the subject of abuse by sons, although abuse by daughters is also common, and fathers are victims too.

Financial abuse appears to be the most common form of abuse experienced by elderly people, and this is the area where most empirical research is available. Psychological abuse appears slightly less common than financial abuse, and seems to frequently co-occur with financial abuse.

The problem of elder abuse is of increasing concern as in the coming decades unprecedented proportions of Australia’s populations will be older: in 2050, just over a fifth of the population is projected to be over 65 and those aged 85 and over are projected to represent about 5% of the population.

Our federal system of government means that responses to elder abuse are complicated as they are contained within multiple layers of legislative and policy frameworks across health, ageing and law at Commonwealth and state level.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Dr Rae Kaspiew is a Senior Research Fellow and Dr Rachel Carson is a Research Fellow, both at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Professor Helen Rhoades is an academic from the Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne.

Views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and may not reflect those of the Australian Institute of Family Studies or the Australian Government.

This report was commissioned and funded by the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department (AGD).

The authors would like to acknowledge the support and assistance provided by the AGD, in particular by AGD officers Emma Swinbourne and Genevieve Schulz, and to thank the Australian Bankers Association (ABA) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) for their contributions to this research.

We also extend our thanks to the AIFS librarian Carole Jean for her research assistance and to our editor Lan Wang for her invaluable assistance, including for her insight and attention to detail in editing this report.

We would also like to thank Anne Hollonds, Director of AIFS, and Associate Professor Daryl Higgins, Deputy Director (Research), together with AIFS Assistant Director, Ruth Weston, and Senior Research Fellow, Dr Lixia Qu, for their advice and support throughout this research.


An earlier version of this report was published on the Attorney-General’s Department’s website.

Cover photo: © iStockphoto/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Publication details

Research Report
No. 35
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, February 2016.
54 pp.
ISSN: 
1477-1477
ISBN: 
978-1-76016-082-1
Suggested citation:

Kaspiew, R., Carson, R., & Rhoades, H. (2015). Elder abuse: Understanding issues, frameworks and responses (Research Report No. 35). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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