Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is also commonly known as emotional abuse. It is any act that causes emotional pain, anguish, or distress, or is demeaning to an individual.

Psychological abuse is also commonly known as emotional abuse. It is any act that causes emotional pain, anguish, or distress, or is demeaning to an individual.

Australian research indicates that psychological abuse is the most common form of elder abuse. 11.7% of older people reported experiencing this form of abuse in the last 12 months.1 Women are more likely to report psychological abuse than men.2

It may be:

  • Name calling, or treating the older person like a child

  • Confining or isolating an older person

  • Withholding affection, such as refusing access to grandchildren, often referred to as grandparent alienation.

  • Preventing social contact with family and friends

  • Denying or limiting social activities, such as religious, cultural or community events

  • Not obtaining or incorporating an older person’s wishes or preferences in exercising powers of attorney

  • Misleading an individual’s capacity for decision-making

  • Taking away decision-making powers

  • Withholding or controlling mail

  • Taking over the older person’s home so that their normal social contacts don’t continue

  • Verbal threats, like “Do what I say, or I’ll put you in a home”

In the recent National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study half (49%) of the respondents who experienced psychological abuse reported being insulted, called names or sworn at in a way they found offensive or aggressive.3

Just under half of respondents (46.4%) reported being excluded or repeatedly ignored, or experienced behaviour that was undermining or belittling.4

Respondents also reported actions that involved preventing them from seeing or contacting family members or medical professionals (14.5%), as well as threats of physical harm (10.2%).5

The Australian research indicates that children are the main perpetrators of psychological abuse. Other common perpetrators of this type of elder abuse include sons- and daughters- in-law, spouses, friends, acquaintances and neighbours.6

60% of older people who experience psychological abuse do not report it.7

Psychological abuse resources

Need information or advice on elder abuse now?
Need information or advice on elder abuse now?
CALL 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374)
In an emergency call 000

This free number will redirect you to an existing phone service near you. This is not a 24-hour line. Call operating times will vary. A collaboration between the Australian, state and territory governments.