Physical elder abuse

Physical abuse is a form of elder abuse. The most common type of physical elder abuse is someone threatening to harm an older person. But there are also other types.

The most common types of physical elder abuse

In a national elder abuse prevalence survey (NEAPS) initiated by the Australian Government, it revealed how a percentage of people aged 65 and older in Australia living at home experience physical elder abuse. Read the report here.

The most common types of physical elder abuse include:

  • threatening to harm the older person in any way
  • grabbing, pushing or shoving
  • hitting, punching, kicking or slapping
  • threatening or injuring with a weapon
  • tying or holding down, restraining in any other way, or locking up
  • controlling the older person by giving drugs or too much medicine
  • sexual abuse

This list is not exhaustive.

Older people may experience more than one type of physical elder abuse.

NEAPS includes how an experience of physical abuse is associated with poorer physical health, poorer psychological health and a lower sense of social connection.

Who commits physical elder abuse?

The main perpetrators are sons and daughters, but physical abuse is also perpetrated by other people.

This includes:

  • partner/ex-partner
  • adult children (the largest group of psychological abuse perpetrators)
  • in-laws
  • step-children and grandchildren
  • brother or sister
  • neighbour, friend, acquaintance
  • service provider
  • professional carer
  • other

The study shows that physical elder abuse can be perpetrated by more than one person. Many of the main perpetrators are males and those who are unemployed.

It is common for a perpetrator to have a mental health problem.

How to tell if someone is experiencing physical elder abuse

There are ways you can tell if an older person is experiencing this type of abuse.

The signs of physical abuse include:

  • pain or restricted movement
  • bruises, bite marks, cuts, burns, scratches
  • unexplained accidents
  • unexplained injuries such as broken bones, sprains, punctures
  • over or under-use of sedation
  • fear or anxiety
  • stories about injuries that conflict between the older person and others
  • signs of restraint, eg. tape marks on wrist

What if I know someone who may be experiencing physical elder abuse?

If you suspect an older person is experiencing physical abuse, explore if they need medical attention.

If they are not in immediate danger, try asking questions when it is safe and private to do so. The earlier you approach this, the better.

Listen to the person’s story. Take the abuse seriously. It can be hard for people to share what is happening. An older person is more likely to downplay the abuse.

Talk about the situation freely to help make sense of what is happening. Try and be neutral. The person may stop sharing important information if you show any kind of judgement or criticism.

Another important step is supporting the person to stay connected and increase safety. It is recommended to involve a professional person if the older person agrees.

Better Place Australia Elder Abuse Prevention Services in Melbourne and across Victoria have supported over 1000 people and their families. You can contact Better Place Australia to discuss the situation by calling 1800 214 117.

What if I don't seek help?

Only 1 in 3 older people seek professional help for the abuse.

Going it alone is not advisable. It can put the person more at risk.

If a person is experiencing physical elder abuse, it’s important to know that the abuse doesn’t normally go away. In fact, it can escalate.

Who to talk about physical elder abuse

If there is no immediate danger, one option is:

  • seek confidential support from a specialised elder abuse service such as Better Place Australia

If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

How does Better Place Australia help?

A Better Place Australia specialist will speak with the person confidentially. We will have a face-to-face or phone consultation to establish the concerns and wishes. We can formulate a plan of care and empower the person to make the decisions they want, in order to increase safety and improve wellbeing.

Call 1800 214 117 or email us with your contact details.

Watch the National Research Ageing Institute (NARI) video on physical abuse

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