Policymakers urged to address elder abuse

By Shannon Jenkins

June 13, 2019

Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) has called on policymakers at all levels to help prevent elder abuse.

Elder abuse is “multifaceted” and “hidden”, CFCA, the Australian Institute for Family Studies’ information hub, said in a new paper.

They discuss key issues surrounding the nature of elder abuse and how to address it.

While disability, dependence on others and dementia can represent vulnerability for older people, it is the combination of other factors, such as poor-quality relationships or low social support, that can increase the risk of elder abuse, according to the report.

It is important “to take seriously the social and economic challenges of an ageing population while avoiding disempowering older people through negative stereotypes and social exclusion”.

Implications for policy and practice

There is “a need for research” on the prevalence, dynamics and risk factors of elder abuse, CFCA said.

Such research can inform policies and practices and promote the dignity of older Australians.

The report urges policymakers to consider implementing primary, secondary and tertiary interventions.

Service providers and practitioners should consider secondary and tertiary interventions.

A coordinated approach is needed to develop education and awareness strategies, support workforce development initiatives and build an evidence base to inform practices, the report said.

Primary intervention

Primary interventions can target particular populations and sectors (e.g. health, aged care, social, legal or financial sectors) at various levels.

Strategies include:

  • Commonwealth and state/territory-based legislation to prevent or remediate forms of elder abuse.
  • Policy frameworks to guide policy and practice.
  • Education and awareness strategies.
  • Sector-wide workforce development and support for relevant professionals.
  • Funding for elder abuse prevention initiatives.

Policy frameworks

The Council of Attorneys-General released its National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians earlier this year.

It aims to enhance our understanding, improve community awareness and access to information, strengthen service responses, plan for future decision-making, and strengthen safeguards for the vulnerable. These are key initiatives for governments to pursue in response to elder abuse.

There is currently no over-arching legal framework to address elder abuse at a national level in Australia, the report said.

State policy frameworks generally sit within health or social services portfolios. They increasingly aim to sit across a range of relevant portfolios, such as the NSW Government interagency policy for preventing and responding to abuse of older people.

The Northern Territory is the only jurisdiction that has not established policy frameworks aimed at tackling elder abuse.

Secondary intervention
Secondary interventions target at-risk populations to prevent or intervene early and reduce the incidence of elder abuse and its impacts.

The main kinds of secondary interventions for elder abuse include screening and risk-assessment strategies, and social support and capacity building strategies.

Tertiary interventions
Tertiary interventions aim to address the incidence and impact of elder abuse after it has occurred, and typically target elders who have been victims of abuse and their perpetrators.

They face “serious” challenges, including the task of addressing particular — rather than general — forms of elder abuse and a general lack of evidence about what works effectively.

According to the report, it has been suggested that interventions should incorporate an understanding of poly-victimisation that is client-focused, not incident-focused, and trauma-informed.

Interventions for specific populations include:


  • Some researchers suggest that elder abuse calls for multidisciplinary and coordinated approaches, as victims have unique needs.
  • This approach unites social, legal, health and mental health professionals to provide holistic and tailored responses to abuse. The same can be said for risk and needs assessment and referral.
  • Case-management and advocacy interventions may involve multidisciplinary responses but are facilitated by a case manager, rather than a team, to assess elders’ needs and help them access support services.
  • Motivational interviewing aims to assist older people with decision-making, which may help resolve their feelings of ambivalence towards taking action.
  • Some evidence supports the use of elder-abuse helplines that aim to provide advice and assistance to refer to other support services.
  • Emergency shelters for older adults living are another intervention which need further research.


  • There is some evidence to support some psychological approaches, including psycho-educative support groups, anger management and counselling for caregivers and perpetrators. This could improve knowledge, and reduce anxiety or depression for caregivers, but do not relate to a reduction in incidents abuse. More research is needed for perpetrator-focused interventions.


  • Mediation, care conferences and psychological or counselling approaches can focus on family relationships.
  • These kinds of interventions — sometimes implemented as secondary measures — are relatively new, and need more research.
  • Mediation with a trained professional could help resolve family conflicts relating to care needs and financial matters, and reduce the risk of elder abuse. However, this may not suit all cases.
  • Family care conferences are similar to family mediation but encourage information exchange and communication between family members rather than resolving conflict.
  • Psychological or counselling approaches that use family-based cognitive behavioural social work could also reduce perpetration risks, but more research is needed.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is commemorated each year on 15 June.

Seniors Rights Victoria works to prevent elder abuse from occurring by offering free legal advice and information as well a range of educational and advocacy activities.

If you are experiencing elder abuse and want to know what options are available to you, call the Seniors Rights Victoria helpline on 1300 368 821.

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