Elder Abuse

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Elder abuse can be described as any action or lack of action that puts the health or well-being of an elderly person at risk. The abuse is often carried out by a family member whom the victim trusts. Abusers can be anyone inside or outside the family, such as spouses, children, foreign domestic workers or nurses.

There are various forms of elder abuse:

  • Physical abuse – Beating, hitting, slapping or pushing, resulting in injury
  • Neglect – Not providing essential care such as food, clothing, medical aid and other necessities, resulting in pain or injury
  • Psychological/Emotional abuse – Threatening, belittling or controlling behaviour, such as verbal abuse or, preventing them from socialising or leaving the house
  • Sexual abuse – Unwanted sexual acts committed against a person who is not able to provide consent
  • Self-neglect – Unable to perform essential tasks of daily living such as taking care of their own three meals or personal hygiene, leading to potentially dangerous or unhygienic living environment
  • Financial abuse – Exploitation and/or misuse of funds or resources. It includes misappropriation of money, valuables or property

The abused are often too scared to report for a number reasons including, but not limited to:

  • Fearing shame or judgment from others
  • Worry over their families being torn apart when the abuse is reported to the authorities
  • Not knowing how to ask for help
  • Being unaware that they are victims
Elders may have a higher risk of abuse if they have:
  • Progressive disabling illnesses

These illnesses impair their daily function and can make it increasingly difficult for their caregiver to meet their needs. These include: dementia, Parkinson’s disease, severe arthritis (osteopathic and rheumatoid), severe cardiac disease, severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (e.g. chronic bronchitis or emphysema), recurrent strokes, etc.

  • A lack of informal support

Those with progressive impairments who are without social support from family or neighbours, or whose caregivers manifest signs of ‘burnout’.

  • Psychiatric ill health

Those with (or have a family member with) a personal history of substance abuse or violent behaviour may be prone to abuse as these behaviours may resurface.

  • Financially dependent family members

Those with family members who are financially dependent on the elderly person.

  • Caregiver with increased stressors due to personal life events (for example, health issues, loss of a job, loss of a loved one)


Those whose caregivers are under sudden increased stress due to, for example, loss of a job, health or beloved one

Signs of elder abuse may not always be easy to detect, as these signs may be attributed to age-related cognitive or health decline instead. Potential abusers may also use these excuses to cover up abuse.

Nevertheless, some broad signals that can be detected include:

  • Frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and the elderly person
  • Changes in the personality or behavior in the elder

A more detailed list of signs can be found here.

What can I do if I’m experiencing similar scenarios?

If you think that you are a victim of elder abuse, know that abuse is never right, even if the perpetrator is someone you care about. Your personal safety is important. You deserve to be respected and feel safe. Seeking help may even allow your perpetuator to see the error of their ways and improve the relationship between both of you.

You can speak to someone else you trust such as neighbours or other family members, to increase your visibility. In times of danger you should call the police. The 24h ComCare Call Hotline (1800 222 0000) can also direct you to relevant services.

More on what you can do to help yourself can be found here.

How can friends and family support the victim?

●   As victims of elder abuse may not want to or be able to report the case, family or friends witnessing can help and encourage them to do so. For more tips on supporting victims, click here.

●   Be observant: Are there unusual bruises or abrasions? Do they look afraid, especially around their caregiver? Is there often shouting and sounds of distress coming from their home?

●   Symptoms:
– Frequent wounds, cuts or bruises at various stages of recovery, abrasions and signs of being restrained
– Withdrawal from normal activities, appearing frightened or fearful, avoiding physical or eye contact
– Bed sores, malnutrition, rapid health deterioration
– Dirty living environment, soiled clothes, lack of water or electricity at home
– Caregiver refuses visitation and is threatening or abusive towards the vulnerable adult

●   Show concern: Engage the vulnerable adult often, or encourage them to talk to you or a trusted person should they need help

●   Lend a helping hand: If you suspect that a vulnerable adult is in a life-threatening situation due to abuse, call the police at 999 or SMS 71999. Visit www.msf.gov.sg/breakthesilence for more information on helping victims of family violence

How can I seek legal help?

The following are laws related to elder abuse.

The Women’s Charter Chapter 353 protects the elderly against family violence. They can apply for a Protection Order from the Family Court to restrain the abuser from using violence. Applicable when the abuser is a family member.
The Maintenance of Parents Act

It allows the elderly to seek maintenance (a sum of money) from their children if they are unable to provide for themselves.

Apply for maintenance orders here.

The Penal Code Criminalises hurt related offences.
The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act (MHCTA) MHCTA protects elderly patients receiving psychiatric treatment from ill treatment or neglect.
Vulnerable Adults Act (VAA) The Vulnerable Adults Act (VAA) safeguards Vulnerable Adults from abuse, neglect, or self-neglect. It is a key part of Singapore’s adult protection framework, together with other laws like the Women’s Charter and Mental Capacity Act. The Act supports the family and community to protect and care for the Vulnerable Adult, and the State steps in as a last resort when family and community intervention fails. However, do note that this Act does not cover financial abuse.
Singapore Statistics

According to MSF (2020), the number of elder abuse cases (for victims above the age of 65) has been increasing – in 2018, 126 cases were reported to MSF which was a huge increase from 77 cases in 2017, and 55 cases in 2016.

○ Abusers are often caregivers and about 80% of victims know their abusers who could be their children, step-children or spouse, according to The Straits Times (2019).
○ Cases involve physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse and victims can also face neglect. However, sexual abuse cases are rare and there has been no known fatality resulting from abuse of elderly.

● In a NUS 2016 study, it was found that nearly half of 50 cases of elder abuse were related to financial exploitation by family members. Examples of financial exploitation include conning parents into selling their flats and giving children their proceeds, and threatening parents with violence until they give in to children’s monetary demands.