Elder abuse far more common than we think

It’s a subject that doesn’t often generate headlines in mainstream media but perhaps it’s time that changed. The subject is elder abuse. It’s not highlighted often, but cases do get recorded by agencies such as the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN). In fact, preliminary data suggests OPAN received almost 1300 calls regarding elder abuse in the six months to March 2024.

As disturbing as those numbers are, OPAN chief executive officer Craig Gear said they’re “just the tip of the iceberg”. He said one in six older people reported experiencing abuse in the National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study. Of those, he said, “only one-third had sought help”. 

From this we can infer that the actual number who experienced elder abuse in the period was around 4000. Four thousand such incidents in six months. That’s more than 150 a week; roughly 22 cases of abuse every single day.

These damning statistics come during a month that each year marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. That day came two weeks ago, on 15 June. To the best of my knowledge, though, there was no mention of it in mainstream media on or around that date. 

It is perhaps something we could all do better at highlighting next year.

Though World Elder Abuse Awareness Day has passed, it’s no reason to forget its message for another 12 months. Rather, its passing can be used as a catalyst for change, so that when next year’s rolls around, numbers will have decreased.

Right now, they are doing the exact opposite. OPAN’s data shows that calls to the national government hotline, 1800 ELDERhelp, have spiked dramatically. From July 2023 to the end of May 2024, the hotline took 9085 calls. That’s a 36 per cent jump compared to the same period the previous year.

Understanding elder abuse

A big part of reducing the incidence of elder abuse is understanding that it can take on various forms. Along with the more obvious physical form, abuse can be emotional, psychological, sexual, social and financial. For those of us with older people in our lives, reminding ourselves of this can help us identify the signs. 

National Seniors Australia (NSA) has made financial abuse a focus this year, highlighting the fact that scammers aren’t always strangers. “We often talk about older Australians being increasingly targeted by online scammers,” said NSA CEO Chris Grice. “[But] we also need to talk about the financial loss suffered, not at the hands of strangers, but by loved ones in positions of trust.” 

Financial elder abuse involving a trusted person can present in several ways, Mr Grice said. “Using a person’s money or credit card without their permission,” was an obvious one he said. However, there are other more subtle ways, such as coercing an older person to sign over assets.

Changing a will or Power of Attorney through force or coercion is sadly not rare either. Nor is withholding care for financial gain, Mr Grice said.

Facing up to reality

Many of the examples cited by Mr Grice will not be unfamiliar to you. They’re often seen as plot devices in television dramas. But OPAN’s data shows that these forms of elder abuse are real, and sadly far more widespread than most realise.

While this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day has been and gone, let’s not wait until 2025 to learn more about the potential dangers facing vulnerable older Australians.

The time for raising awareness and vigilance is now.

Do you know someone who’s been subjected to elder abuse? Were you aware of the 1800 ELDERhelp hotline? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Arm speed could be the key to preventing falls

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. I have suffered abuse in a lot of ways. Borrowing money and never paying it back, being barred from seeing my grandchildren because I would not be a guarantor for a home loan (unless you have loads of money not something I would recommend either). There is nowhere near enough support. Nor is any action taken. The government seems to be leading the charge when it comes to elderly abuse. I find the campaign by SA Police suggesting elderly people don’t drive poorly thought out and disgusting. They seem to thing all elderly people live in the city or have loads of money to spend on taxi fares. Buses are out of the question when getting off and on can be a big problem for elderly.

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