Family conflict and isolation are top risk factors for elder abuse

A history of family conflict, living alone or being isolated and dependent on others are the three key risk factors for elder financial abuse Griffith University research has found.

In an analysis of 60 complaints reported to a Queensland older persons advocacy agency in 2020, Griffith Business School researchers also found possessing wealth and the misuse of enduring power of attorney were high on the list of factors leading to elder abuse.

“Awareness of elder abuse is rising, and with about 15% of the Australia population aged over 65 and predicted to rise to about 23% by 2055, it is imperative that we focus on strategies to reduce this insidious form of abuse,’’ says Dr Tracey West, who is compiling a report for Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (Australia).

She said while the exact figures of elder abuse in Australia were unknown, UK and Canadian studies indicated between 2 to 8 per cent of people over 65 experience abuse every year. Financial abuse was the most common type of abuse, with other types including psychological, emotional, neglect and misuse of enduring powers of attorney.

Financial abuse includes the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property or assets. It can include stealing, forgery, forced changes to a will, transferring money or property, withholding funds and failure to contribute or repay loans.

“Evidence also suggests that most abuse of older people is intra-familial and intergenerational, making it challenging and complex to address.”

Dr West said it was important that elderly people kept in regular contact with their financial institution to reduce risk.

“Have bills such at telephone and utilities automatically paid from your bank account, seek information about legal and financial matters and get independent advice before signing any documents.

“This is especially important before co-signing loans or signing over home ownership.”

Other tips to reduce risk include:

  • Read all legal documents carefully, including the fine print- seek advice if you don’t understand something
  • Stop and wait if you’re feeling pressured- get advice before you sign a document
  • Put in writing your expectations that your property/materials which are borrowed are to be returned…unless it’s a gift
  • Keep your home secure; do not leave valuables lying around
  • Complete a Will; Enduring Power of Attorney and an Advance Care Directive
  • Update your documents yearly or as relationships or circumstances change
  • Keep copies of these important documents in a safe place, which you can find easily