Key messages

  • Health and community services that support older Victorians need to know how to prevent and respond to elder abuse.
  • The Department of Health & Human Services has published prevention and response guidelines and practice guidelines.
  • Online professional education training in preventing elder abuse is also available.

Elder abuse can affect any older person irrespective of gender, economic means or background. It can occur in the private realm of the family and go undetected and undisclosed by the older person.

The Victorian Government’s commitment

  • The Victorian Government commenced work on the prevention of elder abuse in 2006. The initiative has worked to raise community awareness of elder abuse and to empower older people to know their rights and know where to seek information and advice.
  • For the sector, the initiative has involved professional education and capacity building, the implementation of policies, protocols and referral pathways, and cross-sector cooperation.
  • In 2006 the government set up an Elder Abuse Prevention Advisory Group to provide advice to the Elder Abuse Prevention Initiative. This group consists of representatives from key sectors and government agencies.
  • From 2008 Seniors Rights Victoria has been funded by the Victorian Government to provide information, advice (including legal advice), support and referral to anyone in Victoria experiencing elder abuse. It has a free help line.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is carried out by someone close to an older person with whom they have a relationship implying trust. This form of abuse typically involves a family member such as a spouse, adult child, grandchild, sibling, close friend or primary carer.

Abuse can be physical, psychological, financial or social, or take the form of neglect. An older person may suffer more than one type of abuse at one time. It can be a result of ignorance, negligence or deliberate intent, but also predatory action.

The term ‘elder abuse’ was adopted in the 1980s to describe family violence situations involving older people, and it is still used in many countries. In Victoria, the government adopted the definition of the Australian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (ANPEA):

‘Any act occurring within a relationship where there is an implication of trust which results in harm to an older person. Abuse may be physical, sexual, financial, psychological, social and/or neglect.’ (ANPEA 1999)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes elder abuse as ‘a violation of human rights and a significant cause of injury, illness, lost productivity, isolation and despair’ (WHO 2002 Active ageing, a policy framework, p. 29).

Elder abuse is a complex issue, which can challenge views about the nature of families and the status of older people in our community. In many cases, both the victim and perpetrator may not be aware that what is occurring is abuse.

For community information, factsheets and resources on elder abuse, visit Seniors Online.

Seniors Rights Victoria

Seniors Rights Victoria is funded by the Victorian Government to provide information, support, advice and education to help prevent elder abuse, and to safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people.

Experienced advocates and legal advisors provide a welcoming and respectful environment where older people can talk confidentially about their experiences and choose their preferred action. Interpreters are available when needed.

Services include a help line, specialist legal services, short-term support and advocacy for individuals, and education. Seniors Rights Victoria also provides leadership on policy and law reform.

If you, a client or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, please contact the free, confidential help line: 1300 368 821.

Professional education in elder abuse prevention and response

The Elder Abuse Prevention online professional education is aimed at people working with older people and anyone interested in learning more about elder abuse prevention.

Learn more at the e-learning portal or contact the Department of Health & Human Services.

With respect to age 2009 guidelines

The abuse of older people is a complex social problem that requires careful and considered responses. With respect to age 2009 are the Victorian Government’s practice guidelines for health services and community agencies for the prevention of elder abuse. The guidelines have broad multi-sector and multi-discipline application, helping managers, workers and practitioners in health services and community agencies.

As a practical tool, the guidelines:

  • suggest how to develop or review service or agency policies and procedures to respond to suspicion or allegation of elder abuse
  • support the development or review of local inter-agency elder abuse protocols enabling cooperation between organisations responding to such cases
  • provide resources to strengthen services’ response capacity.

The guidelines target workers supporting older people in health services such as hospitals (including emergency departments) and rehabilitation, sub-acute and community health services (including nursing, allied health and counselling services) provided in the home and other community settings.

The guidelines also target community agencies such as local government, Victoria Police, not-for-profit organisations and private organisations.

The guidelines are available to download from this page. To obtain a hard copy, email Warehousing Fulfilment Distribution Solutions.