Elder abuse 

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is behaviour that causes harm or distress to an older person, by someone who they could reasonably be expected to trust.  It can be  a one-time incident or something which occurs repeatedly over time.   

Elder abuse can take several forms. It can be:

  • psychological – for example:
    • Ridicule or threats
    • Harassment or humiliation
    • Preventing choice or decision making
    • Withholding affection
  • financial – for example:
    • Unauthorised taking of money or possessions
    • Misuse of power of attorney
    • Failing to repay loans
    • Use of home and/or utilities without contributing to costs
  • physical abuse – for example:
    • Hitting, pushing, rough handling
    • Overmedication
    • Inappropriate use of restraints or confinement
  • neglect – for example:
    • Inadequate food, clothing, shelter
    • Lack of social contact, support
    • Health needs not attended to
  • Sexual Abuse
    • Unwanted sexual contact
    • Exploitative sexual behaviours e.g. inappropriate touching
  • Institutional Abuse – a policy or accepted practice within an organisation that disregards the rights of or harms an older person. For example:
    • Routines that do not respect a person’s culture or customs
    • Rationing of continence products

Interestingly, according to Age Concern the most common forms of elder abuse are psychological and financial abuse, and the abuser is most likely to be the victim’s adult son or daughter.

Back to top

How can I tell if someone is being abused by their caregiver?

Often, elder abuse happens when someone is trusted to look after an elder, but instead takes advantage of them. This may mean stealing money, or it may mean physical or emotional abuse. It can be hard to know for sure if an older person is being abused or neglected but here are some indicators of possible abuse:

  • Unexplained behaviour, sleeping or eating habits
  • Withdrawal and/or edginess
  • Fear of a particular person
  • Confusion
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Drowsiness (over-medication)
  • Recoiling from touch
  • Unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
  • Unpaid bills, lack of money for necessities
  • Signs of intimidation or threats

You can find more information about the signs of elder abuse on the Age Concern website and the Ministry for Social Development’s SuperSeniors website. 

If you are concerned about how someone is being treated by their caregiver it is important to do something about it. 

You can call the free help line dedicated to elder abuse (0800 EA NOT OK or 0800 32 668 65) at any time to speak to a registered nurse. They can give you information and support, and refer you to  your nearest elder abuse support service.  

Elder abuse support services are listed on the Family Services Directory. Your Citizens Advice Bureau can also help you find a service near you. 

There is more information about how you can help on the Ministry of Social Development’s Super Seniors web page on elder abuse.  

Back to top

I’m concerned my elderly neighbour is being neglected by her caregiver, her adult son. What can I do?

Elderly people can be at risk of neglect when they are dependent on others, and particularly when they cannot (or feel they cannot) tell anyone what is happening to them.
You can help by keeping in contact with your neighbour, and offering encouragement and support to them. 

If they feel supported, they may feel more confident in asking for help, If you think your neighbour is in immediate danger, call the Police. Otherwise, you could contact the national Elder Abuse Response Service for free on 0800 326 6865 for information and support, and referral to  your nearest elder abuse support service

Don’t put the older person at risk by confronting the abuser yourself - unless the older person has asked you to and you have a plan to keep them safe.

Support services are listed on the Family Services Directory; your Citizens Advice Bureau can help you find a service near you. 

Your neighbour may be regarded as a “vulnerable adult” if her condition makes her unable to remove herself from her caregivers (whether at her own home or in a residential care facility). If this is the case then her son is actually legally obliged (under the Crimes Amendment (No 3) Act 2011) to properly care for her and take reasonable steps to protect her from abuse or neglect.

You can read more about the responsibilities of people in regular contact with a vulnerable adult on our Reporting abuse of children and vulnerable adults page. 

Back to top

Looking after my elderly dad is hard work – he’s really difficult and I’m stressed out. I’m worried I might hurt him one day.

Caring for an older person can be a really hard job.  If you think you’re in danger of abusing an older person in your life, you can contact the Elder Abuse Response Service on 0800 326 6865 at any time for help and advice on improving the situation.

If abuse, neglect or violence is a way you often respond to stress, you can try calling the Family Violence Information Line on 0800 456 450.

It’s important to take care of yourself. For example:

  • try to get enough sleep and eat sensibly, because if you’re under physical stress it can affect your ability to cope mentally. 
  • If possible, arrange for some form of respite care for your father so that you can have regular breaks.
  • Find out about financial assistance from Work and Income if you are stressed about not having enough money.

It’s worth knowing about agencies which can provide you with help and support.  You can find out about what help and support is available to you, on our Care of older people page.

If it feels as though it’s all starting to get on top of you, you may find that just being able to talk to someone about it helps. You could:

  • find a carer support group;
  • call Lifeline 0800 543 354 for telephone counselling, available 24 hours x 7 days;
  • contact Carers NZ for information and advice on 0800 777 797. There is also lots of information on their website.

Back to top

What should I do if my carer is ill-treating me? I’m scared of her

It can be hard to take action especially if you don’t want to make a fuss, or are worried that complaining will make the abuse worse. But you have the right to be safe.

Talk to someone you trust (e.g. your doctor, a trusted friend) about the abuse if you can do this safely. It can help you feel less isolated and more supported. Or you can ring the Elder Abuse Response Service 0800 326 6865. This is a free and confidential helpline that is available 24 hours, 7 days, and can give you information, and/or can connect you to an elder abuse support service. 

Alternatively, you can ask your doctor or other trusted person to contact your nearest elder abuse support serviceAge Concern, or the Police, on your behalf, and tell them about what is going on, or you can also contact these services yourself. The agency you go to will take into account your personal safety before dealing with the situation, can help stop the abuse and may also be able to get help for the person abusing you.

You can find more information about getting help on the Ministry of Social Development’s SuperSeniors website.

Back to top

My mum is in a rest home and I am really unhappy with how they are treating her.  What can I do?

Elder abuse within a rest home can happen because its policies or accepted practices disregard the rights of its residents. Or it can be the perpetrated by a caregiver within a rest home (also see What is elder abuse?).

If you suspect your mother may be suffering abuse or neglect at the hands of her caregiver, talk about the situation with her, and decide together what to do about it. She may wish to make a complaint herself, with your support, or ask you to do so on her behalf.

You should talk to the rest home manager about your concerns. If this does not produce satisfactory results, you have a few options.

You can contact :

  • the  Elder Abuse Response Service, a 24/7 helpline (0800 32 668 65) for free and confidential information and /or to connect you to a local elder abuse response service;
  • an elder abuse support service for free and confidential support, advocacy and information
  • The district health board. DHBs provide public funding to rest homes and can investigate any complaints about rest home care; 
  • the Ministry of Health's HealthCert team audits rest homes and provides access to a list of certified rest homes.;
  • the Health and Disability Commissioner reviews complaints about health and disability services.

Caregivers in a rest home where a resident has been abused or neglected may be breaking the law if they do not take reasonable steps to protect the resident from the abuse or neglect. Read more about this on our Reporting abuse of children and vulnerable adults page.