Psychological or emotional elder abuse

One of the main forms of elder abuse is psychological or emotional abuse. There are different types of psychological or emotional abuse. The most common is being insulted, called names or sworn at in a way that is offensive or aggressive, threats to be placed into an aged care  facility, threats of suicide unless demands are complied with. But there are also other types.

The most common types of psychological or emotional elder abuse

In a national elder abuse prevalence survey (NEAPS)  initiated by the Australian Government, it revealed that 12% of people aged 65 and older in Australia living at home reported experiencing psychological elder abuse. Read the report here.

The most common types, include:

  • insults, name calling or being sworn at in a way older people find offensive or aggressive
  • exclusion or being repeatedly ignored
  • being undermined or belittled
  • manipulation
  • being prevented from accessing equipment such as hearing aids
  • being prevented from accessing family members or medical specialists
  • threats to harm others that care about the older person
  • threats to harm themselves if the older person doesn’t comply

This list is not exhaustive.

Many older people experience multiple types of psychological or emotional elder abuse.

Some of the factors that increase the risk of abuse are older people who are financially disadvantaged, separated or divorced.

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

Who commits psychological or emotional elder abuse?

The main perpetrators are family members, but it can be committed by anyone who breaches a person’s trust.

This includes:

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

Generally, men and women equally perpetrate psychological or emotional abuse on an older person. Over one-third of the main perpetrators have mental health problems while one-fifth have financial problems.

How to tell if someone is experiencing psychological or emotional elder abuse?

Some older people will not say anything about the abuse because they want to maintain peace and harmony with the perpetrator, and are afraid the problem will escalate if they do say something. Some may feel ashamed, in denial, or don’t recognise that what they are experiencing is abusive.

If an older person is experiencing psychological or emotional elder abuse, there are normally signs in behaviour.

This can be:

  • silence
  • depression
  • anger
  • confusion
  • retreating
  • headaches, exhaustion
  • no longer feeling happy about life

What if I know someone who might be experiencing psychological or emotional elder abuse?

If you suspect an older person is experiencing psychological elder abuse, try asking questions when it is safe and private. It is better to approach it sooner, rather than later, for the sake of the older person’s wellbeing.

Take the abuse seriously. Listen to the person’s story. 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. The older person may stop sharing important information if you show any kind of judgement or criticism.

Support the older person to stay connected and increase safety. If the older person agrees, then involve a professional person.

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 help isn't sought?

Only 4 in 10 people seek professional help to stop the abuse.

Going it alone is not advisable. It can make you more vulnerable.

If someone you know is experiencing psychological or emotional elder abuse, it’s important to know that the abuse doesn’t normally go away by itself. In fact, it can escalate.

Who to talk to

Dealing with it yourself is not always the best or safest way. Sometimes it can make things even worse.

One of the best options is to:

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

How does Better Place Australia help?

At Better Place Australia, a qualified specialist will speak with the person confidentially in a face-to-face consultation, or over the phone if preferred, to establish concerns and wishes.

We can formulate a plan of care and empower the person to make the decisions they want, in order to help remain safe and improve wellbeing.

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

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