Preventing elder abuse and neglect

To prevent elder abuse and neglect it’s important to understand what it is. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect no matter what their age.

What is elder abuse?

The World Health Organisation defines elder abuse 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.”

Elder abuse and neglect can include:

  • lack of care, or neglect by people close to an older person
  • physical violence or using force like pushing and slapping
  • using older people’s money without consent
  • controlling who they see, who they talk to, where they go
  • taking decisions out of their hands
  • treating them like children
  • name calling and put downs
  • keeping them at home, denying them the care they need
  • locking them in their room so they don’t wander.

Around one in ten older people reported some form of abuse (most closely linked to vulnerability and coercion).

The Office for Seniors has produced a summary report of the research, Towards gaining a greater understanding of Elder Abuse and Neglect in New Zealand. This can be read alongside the full technical report undertaken by the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

It's everybody's problem

Elder abuse and neglect is a universal problem, it's not limited to any one gender, religion, ethnic or income group. Most elder abuse is caused by family members and it’s not OK.

For more detailed information, you can download the It’s Not Ok campaign booklet on valuing older people.

What to do if someone's in danger

If you believe that you or another older person is in danger, call the Police on 111.

The Family Violence information line is 0800 456 450. It is available seven days a week, from 9am - 11pm. An after-hours message will redirect callers in the case of an emergency.

You can also get in contact with your local Age Concern.

If you have any doubts or concerns please talk to someone you trust – it could be a friend or member of your family. It could even be a doctor, nurse, a member of a church or spiritual leader.

Four ways you can help

1. Set up safety systems

Set up safety systems for your neighbourhood. Arrange for neighbours who are at home most of the day to watch out for each other. Set up and participate in a telephone network to check on each other.

2. Watch out for scams

Be alert to neighbourhood or financial scams. Many older people are trusting, and, therefore, vulnerable to con artists.

Be wary of telephone callers and doorknockers asking for credit card numbers, cash, or cheques for products or donations to a charity, or to enter homes.

Also be aware of scams through the internet and friendships that are made online that may be scams.

Tell your neighbours and let people know if you have concerns, including local police. You can read more about how scams work on our scams page.

3. Check in on older people

Remember to check-in on older people – if you haven’t seen them or if you notice the person is becoming increasingly withdrawn, talk to them and ask them if they’re OK.

4. Learn and talk about it

 Learn about adult abuse and talk about its prevention. You could plan an adult education program in your church, club, or organisation to inform people about the needs of older people and their caregivers.

If you have concerns about the behaviour of someone in a paid carer role, contact their employer or an elder abuse and neglect service.

Elder abuse and neglect prevention services

The Ministry of Social Development funds 27 elder abuse and neglect prevention services throughout New Zealand. These provide assistance to older people, their families and carers.

You can get in touch with a service for advice.