last year Age Concern uncovered 4 cases of elder abuse every day

Ageing Safely

What is elder abuse?

Sometimes, things don’t work as they should. Abuse can happen to older people, and the likelihood is that it’s going to be at home at the hands of family members or “friends”. Sadly, Age Concern say they uncover at least two new cases of abuse or neglect of older people every day in New Zealand, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Abuse and neglect of older people is internationally defined as: “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. It can be of various forms: physical, psychological/emotional, sexual, financial/material abuse, and/or intentional or unintentional neglect.”

What counts as abuse?


Behaviour causing mental anguish, stress or fear. For example:

  • Ridicule or threats. Harassment or humiliation.
  • Preventing choice or decision-making.
  • Withholding affection.


Illegal or improper use of money, property or other resources. 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.


Infliction of pain, injury or use of force. For example:

  • Hitting, pushing, rough handling.
  • Over-medication.
  • Inappropriate use of restraints or confinement.


Non-consensual sexual acts or exploitive behaviours. For example:

  • Inappropriate touching.
  • Sexual acts with someone unable to give consent.


  • Not providing for physical, emotional or social needs. For example:
  • Inadequate food, clothing or shelter.
  • Lack of social contact and support.
  • Health needs not attended to.

10 signs of elder abuse

Signs that abuse or neglect is occurring may include:

  • Fear of a particular person or people.
  • Anxiety for no obvious reason.
  • Irritability and being overly emotional.
  • Presenting as helpless, hopeless and sad.
  • Using contradictory statements not resulting from mental confusion.
  • Reluctance to talk openly. For example, waiting for the carer to answer.
  • Avoidance of the usual amount of physical, eye or verbal contact this person uses.
  • Not having enough money for necessities or to pay bills.
  • Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts.
  • Possessions disappearing.

Who is most at risk?

  • It can be difficult to identify abuse. But being aware of the risk factors can help. These include:
  • Being dependant on others.
  • Family conflict or dysfunction. Family violence.
  • Isolation.
  • Stress in care relationships.
  • Mature age children or dependents with a disability or health issues.
  • Mental illness and dementia.
  • Poor literacy and/or awareness of rights.

What do I do?

Older people are valuable members of society. They deserve our respect, our care and our attention. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of the vulnerability and frailty that age often brings. If you’re an older person, you’re entitled to the same rights as anyone else. If you feel you’re not being treated right, or if you’re concerned about how an older person is being treated, you can get help. Elder abuse helplines:

If you suspect elder abuse is occurring

It’s not always easy to tell if elder abuse or neglect is occurring. Victims are often reluctant or even unable to talk about it. However, if you’re concerned about an older person, do something! As always if it's an emergency or a crime is happening now, call 111. Get in touch with a help agency such as:

Age Concern - 0800 326 6865 - free 24/7 helpline - call to find a service near you.

Super Seniors - 0800 32 668 65 (0800 EA NOT OK) - free 24/7 helpline

If you’re in close contact with the older person:

  • Make sure they’re safe.
  • Offer reassurance that you’re there to help.
  • Ask them if they’re happy for you to talk to an agency that can help.
  • You could ask them if they’re scared of anyone, whether they’ve been mistreated and how, and if they feel safe in their environment or their relationship with family members.

If their answers raise concerns:

  • Listen and make your responses calm and matter-of-fact.
  • Don’t make any judgements about either the older person or the abuser.
  • Believe them and show them they’re not alone – they have your support.
  • Tell them what you would like to do to help, but offer choices so they feel in control.
  • Let them decide when something should happen.