Elder abuse national research – strengthening the evidence base: research definition background paper

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Elder abuse national research – strengthening the evidence base: research definition background paper

This background paper by the Australian Institute of Family Studies sets out the approach to the development of a working definition of abuse of older people. The working definition is intended to be applied in the Elder Abuse National Research Program and, in particular, to inform the development of data collection instruments for an Australian Prevalence Study. The proposed working definition set out in this paper will be applied and tested as part of the Prevalence Study. At the conclusion of the study, it is expected a final research-based definition will have been developed that is appropriate to the Australian context and can be used to support any future research conducted in Australia. In the interim, it is expected that the Australian Government will continue to refer to the World Health Organization's (WHO) definition of elder abuse.

At present, there is no legislative or purpose-built Australian definition of elder abuse or the abuse of older people. According to this research, there is a significant distance between the broad formulations in the accepted definitions, such as the WHO definition, and the level of precision that is required to develop measures for the purpose of assessing prevalence. Theoretical approaches, including those based on human rights, socio-ecological perspectives, life-course and feminist perspectives, can support consideration of the circumstances in which abuse of older people occurs, and inform this examination of the elements of the definition.

The proposed working definition is:

a single or repeated act or failure to act, including threats, that results in harm or distress to an older person. These occur where there is an expectation of trust and/or where there is a power imbalance between the party responsible and the older person.

Although not specifically articulated in the working definition, the acts or omissions to be captured by this definition for the purposes of the Australian Prevalence Study include:

  • physical abuse (including pushing/shoving, hitting/slapping, punching and kicking)
  • emotional/psychological abuse (including verbal abuse such as yelling insults and name calling;intimidation/bullying and harassment; damaging or destroying property;threatening to harm the older person or their family members/friends or pets; threatening to withdraw care and preventing or attempting to prevent access to funds, telecommunication or transport)
  • financial/economic abuse (including misuse or theft of finances or other assets and abuse or misuse of powers of      attorney)
  • sexual abuse (including unwanted sexual contact and rape)
  • social abuse (including preventing or attempting to prevent the older person from having contact with family, friends or community - social isolation)
  • neglect (including the failure to provide access to essentials such as food and hydration, clean and appropriate shelter, adequate hygiene or medical care).

Find the report here