Elder Abuse – What the HECK is it all about?!

elder abuse old lady

It is difficult for some of us to believe that there is such a thing as Elder Abuse, but there is – AND in New Zealand.  Would you believe that 8% of abuse happens in a rest home the remaining 92% is committed in the home and a staggering high percentage are committed by family members?

We feel this is so worrying and wrong, which is why we really focus on our recruitment, management and training and professional support of our aged care health staff!.  They need to know for the sake of our elderly clients what to look out for, feel confident in reporting potential abuse and what respect of elderly really means.

“In the 13 years of providing staffing to aged care facilities, I have never had complaints about my staff.  Why, because we thoroughly vet them prior to starting, they need to have been trained in dementia and I  constantly drum in the importance of letting us know if something happens  or that they aren’t certain about that they have seen or heard”


(Sources: Interview with Medcall Regional Managers – Noelene Quigan,  Shirley Reynolds & Jane Clements and Age Concern.)

In the week of June 15-22 Age Concerns around New Zealand will be holding events and speaking through the media to raise awareness of elder abuse and neglect. Every year, thousands of older New Zealanders are being abused and it’s our responsibility as a community to ensure that older people are always respected, never abused.  Source Age Concern

“Caring for the elderly is a privilege.  I have spent many years in acute services as a Nurse like ED and Orthopaedics but being involved in rest homes/hospitals and villages is 100% more satisfying.  Caring for the elderly is like a patchwork, with many beautiful pieces making up the overall person! This quit includes the person, their illnesses/ailments, their family/friends, their quirks, their stories, the communities they have lived in, the things they have valued, the things they have lost, the wishes they have and as their Nurse you get to be a key part of it all.  So how does abuse happen?  How do vulnerable elderly people be taken for granted or hurt by others?  It makes me physically sad to think of this happening, and I believe it is born out of a couple of key things:  1. Some in society value ‘things’ more than people.  2. Our own fears and awkwardness might get in the way of being kind to others and 3. People providing care (particularly in the home) are generally not supported and skilled enough to do so”

– Jane 

How prevalent is elder abuse?

– Source Age Concern:

Elder abuse is a global problem.  International studies report that 3% – 10% of older people experience abuse or neglect each year.  It happens to men and women of every religious, cultural, ethnic and income group. However, much abuse goes unreported.  It has been estimated that only 16% of all abuse incidents come to the attention of service agencies which can assist the older person to live safely.

What’s happening in New Zealand?

Each year, Age Concern’s Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention (EANP) services receive more than 2000 referrals for older people who may be facing elder abuse or neglect.  That’s eight referrals every working day.  About three quarters of these situations are confirmed to involve elder abuse or neglect.

Often the abuse experienced by an older person involves more than one type of abuse such as:

  • 75% involved psychological abuse
  • over 50% involved financial abuse
  • 15-20% involved physical abuse
  • 10-15 % involved neglect
  • 10-15% involved self-neglect

Age Concerns report that they are dealing with an increasing number of older people who have become the victims of scams.  Predators are deliberately targeting lonely older people who have assets by forming friendships with them via the internet or in person, then requesting money for various hypothetical emergencies.

Some Facts & Figures

  • Almost half of abused older people are over the age of 80
  • One third of abused older people live alone
  • Three quarters of alleged abusers are family members; and we know this often continues even when the older person moves to residential care
  • Almost half of alleged abusers are adult children

What are the effects of elder abuse?

The personal losses associated with abuse include the loss of independence, homes, lifesavings, health, dignity, and security. They suffer debilitating long term health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, loss of self esteem and exacerbation of chronic health conditions, as a direct result of elder abuse.

Elder abuse also damages family relationships causing isolation and loneliness, grief and great sadness to the older person. Financial abuse can erode assets and savings so that the older person may find it difficult to buy essential medications, or pay for eye, ears and teeth care. They may not be able to pay bills and may even lose their home and possessions.

 “In a situation where a caregiver may have to work with the challenging behaviours of some residents with dementia they may not be prepared or aware of their own reaction to this environment.  We try and reduce this through training and support them to be open and professional about any worries  (not too dissimilar to people working with the mental health sector).  This is a really difficult environment for people and thankfully  there are some great staff who love working with residents with dementia and really making a difference in their live”  

– Noelene

What are the warning signs?

The following signs MAY indicate an older person is being abused:

  • Unexplained behaviour, sleeping or eating habits
  • Withdrawal and/or edginess
  • Fear of a particular person
  • Confusion
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Drowsiness (due to over-medication)
  • Recoiling from touch
  • Unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
  • Unpaid bills, lack of money for necessities.

Why don’t older people seek help when they are abused?

Some of the reasons why an older person does not tell anyone about the abuse are:

  • They blame themselves for the abuse
  • They are ashamed that the abuser is a family member
  • They depend on the abuser for support
  • They have low self-confidence and self-esteem
  • They don’t want to make a fuss
  • They are  afraid that if they complain the abuse will get worse
  • They are isolated, making it difficult for them to tell anyone
  • They do not know who to tell or how to get help
  • They have dementia or an illness that prevents them from telling anyone.

So, what does elder abuse look like?

Commonly, several types of abuse occur together.  The types of abuse include:

Psychological Abuse

Behaviour causing mental anguish, stress or fear.  For example:

  • ridicule or threats
  • harassment or humiliation
  • preventing choice or decision-making
  • Withholding affection.

Financial Abuse

Illegal or improper use of money, property or other assets.  For example:

  • unauthorised taking of money or possessions
  • misuse of power of attorney
  • failure to repay loans
  • use of home and/or utilities without contributing to costs
  • scams that rely on establishing a relationship with the older person with the intention of exploiting their savings.

Physical Abuse

Infliction of pain, injury or use of force.  For example:

  • hitting, pushing, rough handling
  • over-medication
  • inappropriate use of restraints or confinement.


Not providing for physical, emotional or social needs. For example:

  • inadequate food, clothing, shelter
  • lack of social contact, support
  • health needs not attended to.

Sexual Abuse

Non-consensual sexual acts or exploitive behaviours. For example:

  • inappropriate touching
  • sexual acts with someone unable to give consent.

Institutional Abuse

A policy or accepted practice within an organisation that disregards a person’s rights or causes harm. For example:

  • lack of respect for a person’s culture or customs
  • inappropriate rationing of continence products
  • inflexible routines e.g. breakfast at 8 am in the dining room

For questions, thoughts or comments:
Jane Clements |CEO |  jane@medcall.co.nz | www.medcall.co.nz