Helping someone experiencing elder abuse

How to support someone living with abuse

It’s everyone’s role to take notice of elder abuse and help the older people in our lives. Asking if someone is OK and offering support can be really important for someone living with abuse. Simply listening, believing and connecting them with support can be very valuable. Here are some very simple steps:

It’s everyone’s role to take notice of elder abuse and help the older people in our lives. Asking if someone is OK and offering support can be really important for someone living with abuse. Simply listening, believing and connecting them with support can be very valuable. Here are some very simple steps:

Be safe

Consider immediate danger. If someone is in immediate danger it is best to contact the police on 000.

In non-urgent situations call Policelink – 131 444.

It is OK to speak with someone if you think they might need help. It is best to talk with the person when they are on their own and can speak freely. A phone call can be OK too, but the older person may not be able to speak freely if they fear someone else will listen in or monitor the phone call.

What if I cannot speak with the older person alone? If you are unable to speak directly with the older person there still may be others who can. This could be another family member, support person (perhaps a neighbour or faith leader), or even a home care provider or other service. Of course, police can do welfare checks in some circumstances, as well as investigate instances of family and domestic violence. You may like to speak with the Elder Abuse Helpline to talk about options.

Do

Don't

  • Call the police is someone is in immediate danger.
  • Say something when you suspect things are not right.
  • Try to talk to the older person on their own.
  • Intervene if it isn’t safe to do so.

Be safe

Consider immediate danger. If someone is in immediate danger it is best to contact the police on 000.

In non-urgent situations call Policelink – 131 444.

It is OK to speak with someone if you think they might need help. It is best to talk with the person when they are on their own and can speak freely. A phone call can be OK too, but the older person may not be able to speak freely if they fear someone else will listen in or monitor the phone call.

What if I cannot speak with the older person alone? If you are unable to speak directly with the older person there still may be others who can. This could be another family member, support person (perhaps a neighbour or faith leader), or even a home care provider or other service. Of course, police can do welfare checks in some circumstances, as well as investigate instances of family and domestic violence. You may like to speak with the Elder Abuse Helpline to talk about options.

Do

  • Call the police is someone is in immediate danger.
  • Say something when you suspect things are not right.
  • Try to talk to the older person on their own.

Don't

  • Intervene if it isn’t safe to do so.

Ask, listen and believe

Ask the older person about any concerns you have noticed. For many of us, knowing what to ask or say does not always come naturally. For that reason, we put together a few example questions.

You could ask about how the older person appears to be feeling:

"Are you feeling unsafe?"

“You look depressed/down/anxious.”

“Are you feeling disrespected?”

“You seem unhappy with things at home?”

You could ask about something you noticed. For example, “I’ve noticed…

“Someone/your son/your daughter seems to treat you disrespectfully”

“You might like more help around home”

“You are struggling to pay bills”

“You have lost some weight”

“You don’t seem to be getting out much anymore”

Listen without judgement and believe what they have to say.

It can be very hard for people to talk about their situation. If they answer, try to give them time to talk about it openly. You can respond with statements that reaffirm their experience and name the abuse where appropriate. You could respond by saying something like:

“no one has the right to do that”

“that sounds like abuse to me”

“It seems like they are not listening to you and being very disrespectful”

Do

Don't

  • Ask someone if they are OK if you have concerns
  • Listen without judgement
  • Take the abuse seriously and affirm that it is abuse
  • Minimise or make excuses for abusive behaviour

Listen without judgement and believe what they have to say.

It can be very hard for people to talk about their situation. If they answer, try to give them time to talk about it openly. You can respond with statements that reaffirm their experience and name the abuse where appropriate. You could respond by saying something like:

“no one has the right to do that”

“that sounds like abuse to me”

“It seems like they are not listening to you and being very disrespectful”

Do

  • Ask someone if they are OK if you have concerns
  • Listen without judgement
  • Take the abuse seriously and affirm that it is abuse

Don't

  • Minimise or make excuses for abusive behaviour

Support and connect

Seek information. It is useful to seek information about where to get professional help and how an older person could best keep themselves safe. The Elder Abuse Helpline can be a great start, with information about various services and tips for developing a safety plan. You could even ask if the older person would like to make a call with you now, to speak with a professional service.

Do not take over ‘fixing the problem’. If the person does not want to speak with professional help, that is OK too. If you judge someone for not wanting to take action against the abuser they may stop talking to you. Having someone to talk to and/or call the police in an emergency can be critical. Remember: an older person with capacity has the right to make their own decisions and be supported according to their wishes. You can always help the older person by talking about ways to minimise safety risks, developing a safety plan or by continuing to check in.

Do

Don't

  • Be informed about what services can help
  • Get some tips for how to make a safety plan
  • Support them in making decisions
  • Involve a professional if the older person agrees
  • Pressure them to take action
  • Make them feel bad if they aren’t ready for change
  • Make decisions without involving them
  • Take over ‘fixing’ the problem

Do

  • Be informed about what services can help
  • Get some tips for how to make a safety plan
  • Support them in making decisions
  • Involve a professional if the older person agrees

Don't

  • Pressure them to take action
  • Make them feel bad if they aren’t ready for change
  • Make decisions without involving them
  • Take over ‘fixing’ the problem

What if the older person has dementia or impaired decision-making ability?

In this situation, it might be best for you, another family member or support person to call the Elder Abuse Helpline for further guidance.