Elder abuse and neglect

Advice and help - where to go - Elder Abuse Response Service

All seniors deserve to be treated with respect, with dignity and with care, whatever their background or circumstances. Up to 70,000 seniors will experience some form of elder abuse this year and the sad reality is that 79% of reported cases occur at the hands of family members. Most cases are not reported.
The Elder Abuse Response Service focuses on intervention and putting the needs of victims of elder abuse first.
The cornerstone of this service is a free and confidential 24/7 help-line, 0800 32 668 65 (0800 EA NOT OK). Calls will be answered by registered nurses who will direct callers to elder abuse specialist service providers in their region.
Elder abuse is a serious and growing problem. These new services will ensure effective and accessible help is available wherever and whenever victims need it.

How you can help to prevent elder abuse

  • Love and cherish your older relatives/whānau
  • Speak respectfully to older people/ kaumātua
  • Include older people/ kaumātua in your social activities
  • Phone or visit your older relatives/whanau
  • Support older people/ kaumātua to spend their money how they wish
  • Encourage and support older people/ kaumātua to make their own decisions
  • Honour older people's/ kaumātua's wisdom
  • Enable older people/ kaumātua to set their own pace
  • Respect older people's/ kaumātua's stories
  • Seek advice from an Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Service when you think an older person/ kaumātua is being abused or neglected

What is elder abuse and neglect?

Elder Abuse and Neglect is 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 is a violation of Human Rights and a significant cause of injury, illness, lost productivity, isolation and despair. 

What does elder abuse look like?

It is common for several types of abuse occur together. The types of abuse include:

Psychological abuse

Actions and words that cause misery, anxiety or fear. For example:

  • ridicule and humiliation
  • threats, coercion and bullying
  • control, social isolation and prevention of choice
  • hostility and lack of affection

Financial abuse

Illegal or improper use of money, property or other assets. For example:

  • unauthorised taking of money or possessions
  • misuse of power of attorney
  • failure to repay loans
  • use of home and assets without contributing to costs.
  • scams that rely on establishing a relationship with the older person with the intention of exploiting their savings and/or assets, e.g. romance scams

Physical abuse

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

  • hitting, pushing, rough handling
  • over-medication
  • inappropriate use of restraints or confinement.


Not providing for physical, emotional or social needs. For example:

  • inadequate food, clothing, shelter
  • lack of social contact, support
  • health needs not attended to.

Sexual abuse

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

  • inappropriate touching
  • sexual acts which are not wanted

Institutional abuse

A policy or accepted practice within an organisation that does not respect a person's rights or causes them harm or distress. For example:

  • rigid routines that disregard a person's culture or customs
  • rationing of continence products

How prevalent is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is a global problem. It is difficult to know exactly how common elder abuse is, as most goes unreported. An analysis of data from the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing concluded that 10% of the population aged over 65 years who are living in the community experience abuse. International studies report that 3% - 10% of older people experience abuse or neglect each year. It happens to men and women of every religious, cultural, ethnic and socio-economic group.
However, much abuse goes unreported. It has been estimated that only 1 in 14 of all abuse incidents come to the attention of a service agency that can intervene to help stop the abuse.

What are the effects of elder abuse?

The personal losses associated with abuse can be devastating and include the loss of independence, homes, lifesavings, health, dignity, and security.
Abuse can reduce a person's independence by undermining their self-esteem and confidence. It also damages family/whānau relationships, financial security, and mental and physical health, increasing dependency on health and support agencies which may result in the need for residential care.

Why don't older people seek help when they are abused?

Some of the reasons why an older person/kaumātua does not tell anyone about the abuse are:

  • They depend on the abuser for support
  • They have low self-confidence and self-esteem
  • They don't want to make a fuss
  • They are afraid that if they complain the abuse will get worse
  • They are isolated, so that it is difficult for them to tell anyone
  • They do not know who to tell or how to get help
  • They have dementia or an illness prevents them from telling anyone
  • They blame themselves for the abuse
  • They are ashamed that the abuser is a family/whānau member

How can I tell if someone is being abused or neglected?

The following signs MAY indicate an older person/kaumātua is being abused:

  • unexplained behaviour, sleeping or eating habits
  • fearfulness and edginess
  • confusion
  • unexplained injuries
  • drowsiness (due to over-medication)
  • recoiling from touch
  • unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
  • unpaid bills, lack of money for necessities

Abuse and neglect for Māori

Māori recognise the types of elder abuse and neglect defined here but respond to this in a way which considers the context of the four cornerstones of health - Taha Wairua (Spiritual), Taha Whānau (Family), Taha Hinengaro (Mental), Taha Tinana (Physical). In this context, definitions of abuse and neglect may also include the lack of culturally appropriate services, preventing contact with Whānau and non-practice of traditional ways.

In responding to elder abuse and neglect Māori promote a holistic approach involving whānau, traditional cultural values including decision making processes, and the four cornerstones of health to restore manaakitanga.

Abuse and neglect for Pacific Islands people and for people from other cultures

As there are many different groups of Pacific Islands people resident in New Zealand, all with their own language, social structures and cultural practices, it is not possible to generalise a 'Pacific Islands' approach to elder abuse and neglect.

While it is likely that Pacific Islands people and people from other cultures will recognise the types of abuse and neglect defined here, it is also likely that abuse and neglect will encompass other behaviours which are considered by that cultural group as harmful to their older people. One should not assume, however, that all people will immediately recognise or acknowledge that elder abuse or neglect occurs. Education and public awareness raising which has occurred in NZ European and in many Maori communities may not have reached other cultural groups.

When working with older people from another culture, it is essential that advice and assistance is sought from that culture. Wherever possible, it is preferable that services be provided by people from the same culture as the older person. Be mindful that people from other cultures are likely to have ways of addressing elder abuse and neglect which are consistent with their own culture.

"My World....Your World.....Our World - Free of Elder Abuse"

For more information click go to the INPEA World Elder Abuse site core message and World Health Organisation. View Age Concern New Zealand Factsheets on Elder Abuse.

Towards Gaining a Greater Understanding of Elder Abuse and Neglect in New Zealand
report released by the Office for Senior Citizens based on the New Zealand longitudinal Study of Ageing and shows that around 1/10 older people reported some for of abuse

Elder Abuse and Neglect - exploration of risk and protective factors
In 2008 the Families Commission released a new study on "Elder Abuse and Neglect - the exploration of risk and protective factors". To view the report as a PDF fileclick here

Age Concern New Zealand
Age Concern New Zealand has built up the comprehensive picture of elder abuse and neglect in New Zealand with this report series. The reports analyse referrals to Age Concern elder abuse and neglect services, provide definitions of elder abuse and neglect and present case studies of various types of abuse.

Enduring Powers of Attorney - For more information on Enduring Powers of Attorney or other aspects of Financial Abuse visit our Finance and Legal page.

Elder abuse and neglect does occur in New Zealand

Age Concern New Zealand and a number of the Age Concern Councils have been helping people in these situations for a number of years. They can be contacted either through the Age Concern New Zealand website or your local Age Concern centre.

Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Elder Abuse and Neglect
The "Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Elder Abuse and Neglect" present a six-step model for health care providers to use when identifying and responding to elder abuse. The guidelines are intended to be used by health care professionals to:

  • assist them to identify elder abuse and neglect
  • support and empower those experiencing elder abuse or neglect
  • undertake preliminary risk assessment and safety planning
  • determine appropriate referral options for co-ordinated intervention and follow-up.

The guidelines are a practical tool to help providers make safe and effective interventions that will assist those experiencing elder abuse or neglect. They have been written as a generic guideline, setting out principles of intervention that will apply to a variety of health professionals and a number of settings.

More information on the Guidelines is available on the Ministry of Health website, including a PDF copy you can download (2.5 MB).

The Banking Ombudsman

The Banking Ombudsman has quick guides on common banking issues including:

For more information on the Banking Ombudsman quick guides visit our Finance and Legal page

Websites of interest

Below are a few links to other websites detailing a variety of information about 'Elder Abuse' and a brief synopsis of each site. Click on the links provided.

  • Action on Elder Abuse
    Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) works to protect, and prevent the abuse of, vulnerable older adults. They were the first charity to address these problems and are the only charity in the UK and in Ireland working exclusively on the issue today. Their website contains a lot of information on what is happening in the UK regarding Elder Abuse, and the studies and campaigns that Action on Elder Abuse is currently engaged in.
  • The Toronto Declaration on the Prevention of Elder Abuse
    Abuse of older people has only recently been recognised as a global problem. INPEA 's advocacy work and the emphasis given to elder abuse prevention by the World Health Organization have contributed significantly to raising awareness worldwide. Academic institutions, around the world, have also substantially contributed to enhancing understanding and raising awareness and have developed methodological tools to study the problem. However, much is still to be done. Twenty or thirty years ago, societies throughout the world denied the existence of violence against women and child abuse. Then, through research, came the evidence. As a result the civil society exercised the appropriate pressure for action from governments. The parallel with elder abuse is clear. This declaration is a Call for Action aimed at the Prevention of Elder Abuse.
  • American Psychological Association
    Older people today are more visible, more active, and more independent than ever before. They are living longer and in better health. But as the population of older Americans grows, so does the hidden problem of elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect. This website details case studies, signs and symptoms and where to go to for help (in America). The site contains some very interesting and useful information.
  • University of Illinois
    This website looks at the many types of abuse, and states that there are also numerous signs or symptoms that abuse may be taking place. The signs do not always indicate an abusive situation, but can be important clues to possible abuse or neglect. This extension paper from the University of Illinois uses easy to understand language and talks about the Elder Abuse Act that came into force in 1988.
  • Colorado Gerontological Society
    As with other professionals who work with senior citizens, lawyers have observed a shocking increase in the incidents of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of the elderly. This page looks at a number of issues that may be of interest.
  • International Federation on Ageing
    The International Federation on Ageing (IFA) is an international non-governmental organisation based in Canada with a membership base of NGOs, the corporate sector, academia, government, and individuals.
    Their aim is 'generating positive change for older people throughout the world by stimulating, collecting, analysing, and disseminating information on rights, policies, and practices that improve the quality of life of people as they age.'
  • National Center on Elder Abuse
    This is a national resource centre dedicated to the prevention of elder mistreatment in the U.S. It has information on research; practice; policy and education.

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