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.

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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 Neighbourhood Support’s information sheet

If you suspect your parent may be suffering abuse at the hands of their caregiver, it is important to do something about it.  You can contact the nearest Elder Neglect Prevention (EANP) Service for free and confidential support, advice, and information.  EANP services are listed on the Age Concern website; your Citizens Advice Bureau can help you find a service near you. 

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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 an Elder Neglect Prevention (EANP) Service that will offer you support and advise you on what steps to take.

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.

EANP services are listed on the Age Concern website; 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. 


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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 an Elder Neglect Prevention (EANP) Service 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 Helpline on 0800 456 450.

It’s worth knowing about agencies which can provide you with help and support.

For example, you could get practical help with the day to day tasks which looking after an older person can entail, such as housework and personal care (e.g. showering), or respite care – which allows you to have occasional  breaks from the job of caring for your father. 

You might be able to get funding from the Ministry of Health, but your situation would need to be assessed first.

To get an assessment done, you can either contact a Needs Assessment Service Coordination (NASC) provider (listed on the Ministry of Health website) directly or ask a health professional to refer you.

Also, 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.

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
  • Carers NZ has lots of information and advice for caregivers, on their website; if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can phone them at (0800) 777 797.

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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.

You can ask your doctor or other trusted person  to contact your nearest Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention (EANP) service, Age Concern, or the Police, on your behalf, and tell them about what is going on. The agency you go to will take into account your personal safety before dealing with the situation.

The EANP can help stop the abuse and may also be able to get help for the person abusing you.

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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 :

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.