Elder abuse concerns among an ageing Australian population

With approximately 3 million Australians expected to be aged 70 years or older this year in 2021, compared to 2.5 million people in the same age bracket in 2015, Australia’s population is aging rapidly. This trend is due to a combination of factors, including our country’s high life expectancy, low fertility rates, and the ageing baby boomer population. However, the increase in the number of older Australians means that there is also a higher percentage of the population that is at risk of elder abuse. Elder abuse, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is ‘a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.’

Like other types of targeted abuse, elder abuse can be physical, financial, psychological, sexual or emotional, and can include neglect. A research paper published in December 2020 by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety reported that 64.2% of aged care staff admitted to elder abuse in the preceding year, with 33.4% of those incidents involving psychological abuse, followed by physical abuse at 14.1% and financial abuse at 13.8%. The Royal Commission was established on 8th October 2018 by the federal government in response to growing public concern over the treatment and living conditions of elderly Australians, particularly in aged care facilities.

Earlier this year on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), June 15th 2021, the WHO published a fact sheet which reported that 1 in 6 people aged 60 years and older had experienced some form of abuse in a community setting in the past year. They also acknowledged that incidences of elder abuse had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that elder abuse rates were expected to augment along with the aging populations in many countries across the world. Older Australians are not just at risk of elder abuse in aged care facilities, as the Australian Institute of Family Studies published a summary report in late 2018 that most elder abuse is ‘intra-familial and intergenerational,’ meaning that it is a particularly complex and sensitive issue, and that accurate data is difficult to obtain. Dementia.org is another organisation that posted for this year’s WEAAD to raise awareness about the specific vulnerability of older Australians living with dementia and the struggles they face with elder abuse.

By 2050, 25% of all Australians are projected to be 65 years and over, meaning we need to work together to ensure that all Australians are being treated with the same dignity and respect. If you’re interested in learning more about elder abuse as well as other aspects involved in elder law, such as property law and retirement planning, check out Episode 18 of Hearsay, ‘The Basics of Elder Law’ with Adeline Schiralli from Keypoint Law.

If you or someone you know is experiencing or at risk of elder abuse, please call 000 in an emergency, or the national elder abuse phone line 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) for assistance.