Elder Abuse in New Zealand

This year as many as one in ten older people in New Zealand will experience some kind of elder abuse. The majority of cases will go unreported.

Elder abuse is not specific to any one gender, religion, ethnicity, or income group.  It may happen at home, in residential care, or in hospitals. Most of the time family members are the abusers.

Elder Abuse in New Zealand

Understanding elder abuse

Any act that causes harm to an older person is elder abuse. At its most extreme, abuse may be criminal, but it can also be more subtle.

The abuse

There is no single 'type' of elder abuse.  It can be psychological, financial, physical or sexual.  More often than not, people experience more than one type of abuse.

  • Psychological abuse includes threats, humiliation or harassment. This creates distress, shame, or stress, which often leads to a sense of powerlessness in the older person. It is often a factor in other forms of abuse.
  • Financial abuse ranges from illegal use of your money (or assets) to coercion (such as being pressured to change a will or sign documents).
  • Physical abuse includes any personal harm or injury.
  • Sexual abuse includes any non-consensual sexual activity.
Reported Abuse

Who commits elder abuse?

The abuser is often someone close to their victim.  Usually it is someone trusted to care for them: family members, friends and even neighbours. Abusers are often someone they depend on for support or care.

Who are the Abusers

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

Research on Elder Abuse in New Zealand

Researching elder abuse is challenging. What constitutes abuse is not well understood, and many people do not know how to recognise abuse. In 2015 the Office for Seniors produced the report Towards gaining a greater understanding of elder abuse and neglect in New Zealand.

This was based on the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing. It showed that the vast majority of older people are not at risk of abuse and neglect. However it showed that specific groups face higher rates of elder abuse, including women, Māori and those who are separated, divorced or widowed.

Information on New Zealanders' attitudes towards ageing is available here.