Elder abuse - Information for workers and professionals

Workers and professionals may often be the first to suspect or have concerns about an older person, their carer, relative or friend, and are encouraged to develop an awareness of the following:

Elder abuse - the responsibilities of workers and professionals

This will largely depend on the service role of the organisation in relation to older people. Not all workers will be responsible for responding to suspected, alleged or reported cases of elder abuse. However, it is important for workers to be aware of information that can help determine the next steps that should be taken if there are concerns about safety and wellbeing.

Duty of care

Workers have a responsibility to uphold the rights of a person and prevent carelessness, neglect or harm to another person, in a professional relationship between people where there exists a responsibility or obligation of care.

More information about Duty of Care (PDF 110KB).

Decision-making capacity

Decision-making capacity refers to a person’s ability to make day-to-day decisions about legal, medical, financial and personal matters.

Read more about:

Freedom of choice

Older people have the right to self-determination, autonomy and to have their decisions respected and implemented. Older people are presumed to have capacity to make decisions, unless determined otherwise. Their decisions must be respected and upheld. A person is still entitled, even with a diagnosis of mental incapacity, to have their wishes taken into consideration.


Consent is when someone accepts or agrees to something that somebody else proposes. For consent to be valid, the consenting person should:

  • have decision-making capacity specific to the decision being made
  • be able to make decisions based on their wishes and choices
  • understand the implications and effects of their actions
  • not be coerced into making the decision.

Mental capacity

The law requires that a person has decision-making capacity (legal capacity) when making certain decisions in their life, in order for them to be considered valid.

For further information about when an assessment about a person’s decision-making capacity may be required read: What is Decision-Making Capacity (PDF 127KB).

Mental capacity assessments are usually conducted by trained health care professionals and some allied health professionals.

Further information

Impaired decision-making capacity, consent and undue influence

Freedom of choice relates to decisions about life choices including accommodation, lifestyle, health care, and management of property and finances. It also extends to accepting or refusing help that is offered, and whether or not a person chooses to take action related to concerns of elder abuse.

Undue influence or coercion is when in situations of power imbalances, an individual who is stronger or more powerful manipulates the other individual to do something they would not have done otherwise. This may include isolation, creating dependency, or inducing fear and distrust of others.

Where there is concern of undue influence or coercion, impaired decision-making capacity is suspected, there may be a need for legal intervention such as through an application to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT).

While workers are not responsible for assessing undue influence, decision-making capacity, or evidence of financial abuse, they may have a responsibility to seek advice if there is a need to determine whether the person’s decision-making capacity is impaired. They may suspect:

  • coercion to sign a legal document
  • transaction, or its consequences, that is not fully understood
  • decisions which are not made freely due to deception or undue influence.

If you are not sure or if you have concerns, contact the Office of the Public Advocate; or the SACAT.

Elder abuse simulation manual

The University of Adelaide, supported by Office for Ageing Well and in collaboration with the Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS) and older South Australians, has developed an Elder Abuse Simulation e-Guide to help increase awareness of elder abuse in the community.

A valuable resource for front-line staff, the e-Guide includes information on how to recognise the often subtle signs of elder abuse; how to approach this with sensitivity with someone who is potentially experiencing elder abuse; and how to respond.

It features:

  • a video portraying an ideal style of interaction with the older person in an elder abuse scenario;
  • a video for debriefing that describes how to recognise and respond to a person who may be experiencing elder abuse;
  • interactive activities to engage participants; and
  • evaluation tools to assess effectiveness of the simulation learning exercise.

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