Respecting Our Elders


When I and my peers were growing up in the mid-1900’s in middle-class suburbia, the mantra “respect your elders” was constantly being drummed into us.

With a constant reminder from parents, grandparents, schoolteachers, and other “influencers” (we didn’t call them influencers back then), the basic foundations of treating people older than ourselves with respect was a normally expected part of life and simply, the way we were.

However, over time things have changed and now the idea of respecting older people has morphed into a more formalised concept.

It is very commonplace to hear the term “elder abuse” being bandied around.

What was a positive and proactive societal position; “respect our elders”, now has a very negative connotation; “elder abuse”.

In fact, as I write this article, today – 15 June 2022 – is “World Elder Abuse Awareness Day”.

If we all practiced respect for our elders, we wouldn’t have to have a day like today.

Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to have an international day that focuses on awareness of elder abuse?

As an alternative, let’s have a day that celebrates the older person.

In fact, we do have one – “The International Day of the Older Person”. It was established in 1990 by the United Nations and is celebrated each year on 1 October[1].

But I digress – let’s get back to this topic of today’s blog:

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 that causes harm or distress to an older person” [2]

What forms can elder abuse take?

According to Compass, a website created by Elder Abuse Action Australia[3], with funding from the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department, elder abuse:

  • Can be financial, emotional or psychological, physical, sexual or neglect
  • Can be intentional or unintended
  • Can occur once or many times
  • Can be carried out by someone known to the older person, like a family member, friend, professional, or caregiver.

With the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care and the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, we heard many examples of elder abuse.

Some months back, I had a financial adviser approach me with a dilemma.

Their client was the surviving member of a SMSF and was entitled to a reversionary pension from their deceased husband’s interest in the fund. The deceased member’s son (from a previous relationship) was the executor of the estate and in that role, was appointed as the second trustee of the SMSF.

The son felt he was entitled to his late father’s superannuation so attempted to frustrate his stepmother by limiting the amount of income she could draw from her pension and also interfered with a binding death benefit nomination she made in respect to what was legally her entitlement to her late husband’s superannuation. Needless to say, the son would hear nothing of it when his stepmother suggested she wanted to close the SMSF and roll her benefit to an APRA regulated fund.  

This situation is ongoing and, to my mind, is an example of potential elder abuse.

What to do if you see examples of elder abuse?

Compass suggests that where elder abuse is suspected, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Identify if abuse is taking place
  2. Provide emotional support
  3. Take steps to make the older person feel safe
  4. Call 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374)
  5. Take detailed notes including times, places, and nature of suspected abuse.

Sadly, elder abuse is alive and well in Australia.

Knowing the warning signs and how to respond may be a small step in helping to eradicate this heinous activity.

The Compass website referred to in the article includes a plethora of useful information and links to services and resources. It can be found here:

[1] United Nations Resolution 45/106