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Recognising Elder Abuse

Abuse doesn’t discriminate. People of all ages, ethnicity, environment and gender may be vulnerable or at risk. Help starts here.

Last updated: 24 October 2023

Compass knows there are some characteristics or factors that older people who experience abuse are likely to share. These factors can be grouped into three categories: Environmental, Personal, and Perpetrator.

Although these are not the cause of abuse, they should be considered as risk factors and can be helpful in understanding who is at greater risk of abuse.

Environmental factors

The following describe some of the leading external factors that can contribute to or influence vulnerability to abuse.

Carer stress


Ethnicity and culture

History of family conflict and dysfunction

Social and geographic isolation

Lack of information about rights

Language and cultural barriers

Living with the perpetrator

Economic pressures

Personal factors

The following describe some of the leading personal factors that can contribute to or influence vulnerability to abuse.

Substance abuse and problem gambling

Disability & poor health


Financial exclusion

Reduced capacity

Mental health issues

Perpetrator factors

The following describe some of the significant factors that contribute to perpetrators abusing older people.



Husbands, wives and partners

Living with a parent

Substance abuse and gambling problems

Mental health issues


What to look for: family, friends, carers

Whether you’re a family member, a friend, a neighbour or carer to an older person, it's everybody's business to look out for the older people in our lives.

Discover how you can play your part in helping to stop elder abuse.

What to look for: signs and behaviours

Knowing if an older person is experiencing abuse starts by knowing what to look for. These often present themselves in two forms:

Common behaviours

The behaviours or actions as shown by the older person and/or the perpetrator.

Common warning signs

The visual clues often associated with elder abuse.

These behaviours and warning signs may occur across the five types of abuse experienced by older people.

Dollar icon on purple circle

Financial abuse


  • Threats or coercion over assets or wills

  • Denying someone access to their own money and/or taking control of someone’s finances against their wishes

  • Abusing Powers of Attorney

  • The theft of personal items like jewellery, credit cards, cash, food, and other possessions

  • The unauthorised use of banking and financial documents

  • Adding a signatory to a bank account

Warning signs

  • An unexplained disappearance of belongings

  • An unexplained inability to pay bills

  • Significant bank withdrawals

  • Changes to wills

  • Access to bank accounts or statements is blocked

  • An accumulation of unpaid bills

  • An empty fridge

  • A disparity between living conditions and money

  • No money to pay for home essentials like food, clothing, and utilities

Brain icon on pink circle

Emotional or psychological abuse


  • Name calling, and verbal abuse

  • Treating the adult like a child

  • Threatening harm to the adult, other people or pets

  • Engaging in emotional blackmail such as threatening to withdraw access to grandchildren, family, friends, services or telephone

  • Threats to place an older person in an aged care facility

  • Preventing contact with family and friends

  • Denying access to the phone or computer or withholding mail

  • Preventing a person from engaging in religious or cultural practices

  • Moving the person far away family or friends

Warning signs

  • Any one of the following: resignation, shame, depression, tearfulness, confusion, agitation

  • Feelings of helplessness

  • Unexplained paranoia or excessive fear

  • A change in appetite or sleep patterns, such as insomnia

  • Unusual passivity or anger

  • Sadness or grief at the loss of interactions with others

  • Withdrawal or listlessness due to a lack of visitors

  • A change to levels of self-esteem

  • Worry or anxiety after a visit by a specific person/people

  • Social isolation

Hand icon on green circle

Physical Abuse


  • Pushing, shoving, or rough handling

  • Kicking, hitting, punching, slapping, biting, and/or burning

  • Physical restraint

  • Denying medical treatment

  • Locking the person in a room or home

  • Tying the person to a chair or bed

  • Intentional injury with a weapon or object

  • Overuse or misuse of medications

Warning signs

  • Internal or external injuries, including sprains, dislocations and fractures, pressure sores, unexplained bruises or marks on different areas of the body, pain on touching

  • Broken or healing bones

  • Lacerations to the mouth, lips, gums, eyes or ears

  • Missing teeth and/or eye injuries

  • Evidence of hitting, punching, shaking, pulling, such as bruises, lacerations, choke marks, hair loss or welts

  • Burns, i.e. rope, cigarettes, matches, iron, and/or hot water

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Sexual Abuse


  • Non-consensual sexual contact, language or exploitative behaviour

  • Rape and sexual assault

  • Cleaning or treating the person’s genital area roughly or inappropriately

  • Enforced nudity of the person against their consent

Warning signs

  • Unexplained STD or incontinence (bladder or bowel)

  • Injury and trauma, e.g. scratches, bruises etc. to face, neck, chest, abdomen, thighs or buttocks

  • Trauma including bleeding around the genitals, chest, rectum or mouth

  • Torn or bloody underclothing or bedding

  • Human bite marks

  • Anxiety around the perpetrator and other psychological symptoms

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  • Failure to provide basic needs, such as food, adequate or clean clothing, heating and medicines

  • Under- or over-medicating

  • Exposure to danger or lack of supervision, such as leaving the person in an unsafe place or in isolation

  • An overly attentive carer in the company of others

  • A carer denies others the opportunity to provide appropriate care

Warning signs

  • Inadequate clothing

  • Complaints of being too cold or too hot

  • Poor personal hygiene and/or an unkempt appearance

  • Lack of medical or dental care

  • Injuries that have not been properly cared for

  • Absence of required aids

  • Exposure to unsafe, unhealthy, and/or unsanitary conditions

  • Unexplained weight loss, dehydration, poor skin integrity, malnutrition

Recognising Elder Abuse Webinar


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