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Best Practice in Care July Feature – Recognising and Responding to Elder Abuse

Written by Ilsa Bird, Sector Support Coordinator

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day took place on June 15. In response to this, we have gathered some resources for frontline workers and managers to assist with recognising and responding to elder abuse. The fact sheets provide practical tips for staff to identify older people in the community who are risk of or are experiencing elder abuse.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is defined as “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”. (WHO, 2002)

There are five forms of abuse and an older person may experience more than one form of abuse at one time. Below is a table that provides a definition for each form of elder abuse.

Recognising elder abuse

As a frontline worker, you spend time with your clients and therefore you have a key role in recognising elder abuse. There may be signs and behaviours displayed by either the older person or the potential abuser that indicates that one or more forms of abuse is occurring.

The fact sheet below includes behaviours and signs that are related to each specific form of abuse including financial, psychological, neglect, physical and sexual abuse.

Tool 1.6_Abuse_types_behaviours_and_signs

How common is elder abuse?

Statistics regarding the abuse of older people are unclear however the prevalence is estimated at 2-14%. The most common form of elder abuse is financial elder abuse.

Responding to elder abuse

As a frontline worker, you have a responsibility in responding to elder abuse. If you recognise any of the above signs and behaviours it may indicate potential abuse. Below is a flow chart that can be used by frontline staff with steps to respond to potential abuse situations.

Step one of this chart indicates the need to identify the abuse and gather more information. Asking the right type of questions can assist you to do this. The fact sheet below has tips for effective questioning including examples of open and direct questions that can help you find out more about the situation.

Tool 1.9_Effective questioning tips and suggestions

It is important that aged care staff and frontline workers are aware of the behaviours and signs that may indicate potential abuse and understand how to respond to potential abuse situations. By doing so, you can help to keep the older people to remain safe in their home and community.

For more information, contact the Elder Abuse Helpline 1800 628 221 or see their website

Information for Managers

Aged care management staff have a responsibility to ensure organisational processes are in place to effectively identify and respond to suspected elder abuse. Consider the following points:

How do you educate and inform your frontline workers on elder abuse?  In order to prevent, recognise and respond to elder abuse, staff must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to do so. Consider professional development such as an information session delivered by the NSW Elder Abuse Helpline and Resource Unit. For more information, click here.

What policies and systems are in place in your organisation to support someone experiencing abuse? All organisations that have significant levels of interaction with older people through service delivery are required to have policy and procedures relative to elder abuse. According to the NSW Interagency Policy, this should include:

  • How to identify abuse
  • Assessing safety, including when to report to emergency services, and protecting evidence
  • Approaches to providing support, including a list of resources and how to identify where additional support (such as language or cultural support) is needed
  • Procedures for documenting and reporting suspected, witnessed or disclosed abuse (see general principles of documentation fact sheet here)
  • Procedures for responding and referral, which balance the need for empowering the older person to respond, respecting their decision, and responding appropriately to criminal or other serious matters. These should also address duty of care where appropriate
  • How to balance privacy concerns and dignity with the safety of the client
  • When to refer to specialist services
  • How to respond when the alleged abuser also needs support

For more information on policies and procedures, download the NSW Interagency Policy or the NSW Elder Abuse Toolkit



NSW Elder Abuse Helpline and Resource Unit. (2019). NSW Elder Abuse Toolkit.

World Health Organization. (2002). Missing voices: Views of older persons on elder abuse. Geneva: WHO.