Rights of Older People

Every adult has a right to self-determination. The United Nation’s Principles for Older Persons include the rights for: Independence, Participation, Care, Self-fulfilment and Dignity.

Guiding Principles

The Guiding Principles that protect and respect older Tasmanians have been developed by the Council of the Ageing (COTA) Tasmania in partnership with the Tasmanian Government and in consultation with government and non-government agencies.

The Guiding Principles have been adapted from The United Nations Principles for Older Persons and the South Australian Charter of the Rights and Freedom of Older People. These principles will assist in the development of policy, and also in combatting against attitudes within our community.

These principles can assist in identifying and responding appropriately to elder abuse

Responding to Elder Abuse

The Tasmanian Elder Abuse Helpline is a statewide service funded by the Department of Communities Tasmania and operated by Advocacy Tasmania Inc. It’s the first point of call for anyone seeking confidential, free advice and referral for a situation or suspected situation of elder abuse.

The Helpline staff are trained to assess the needs of the caller, provide appropriate referrals to services and supports to older Tasmanians, their family members and friends in making informed decisions in regards to alleged elder abuse.

Information can be provided to callers on action that older people can take to help prevent the occurrence of elder abuse.

The Helpline engages with a range of service providers working with older people to ensure an integrated delivery of services.

Advocacy Tasmania Inc can provide additional information and education to workplaces and groups as required.

Assessment Guidelines and Principles of Intervention


Is it an emergency?

  • No consent required
  • Call Police, Ambulance, Hospital as appropriate – 000
  • Liaise with Emergency Services
  • Follow Agency/Service protocols
  • Once safety is addressed and emergency resolved, consider client capacity and consent

Does the client have capacity?

  • Is an Interpreter or Cultural Advisor required?
  • Discuss situation and options with client
  • Assess risk including existing supports
  • Request client consent for further assistance
  • Is Interpreter or Cultural Advisor required?
  • Discuss situation and options with client
  • Assess risk including existing supports
  • Document (file note)
  • Determine who can provide consent if a major decision (such as change in accommodation) is required
  • Include client in decisions as much as possible

Does the client give consent?

  • Document client’s consent
  • Explore interventions and safety
  • Implement interventions – make referrals, arrange assistance
  • Advocate as required
  • Document client’s non-consent
  • Provide referral options and contacts
  • Provide safety information/plan
  • Consider whether Duty of Care is met
  • Document client and/or decision maker’s consent
  • Explore safety and interventions
  • Implement interventions – make referrals, arrange assistance
  • If no decision maker, or the decision maker is the abuser, consider Guardianship and Administration Board application
  • Document client and/or decision maker’s non-consent
  • Address emergency
  • Consider Guardianship and Administration Board application
  • Consider whether Duty of Care is met

The Principles of Intervention

  • Client safety is paramount
  • Self determination vs Duty of Care
  • Culturally sensitive
  • Client focused
  • Holistic approach
  • Consider all options, including legal/Police
  • Confidentiality to be respected but not create a barrier to action

What is ‘Capacity’?

In this context, capacity refers to an adult’s ability to make decisions about the things that affect the person’s daily life.

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This includes the ability to understand an act, a decision or transaction and its consequences.

A person has capacity to make informed decisions if they understand the general nature and effect of a particular decision or actions and can weigh up the consequences of different options and communicate their decision.

Capacity is generally determined by clinical assessment. More information can be found here.

When a person does not have capacity, a substitute decision maker will make decisions. More information can be found here.

What is ‘Duty of Care’?

Duty of Care involves the obligation to take reasonable care to avoid injury to a person for who it can be reasonably foreseen might be injured by an act or omission.

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Health and Aged Care workers have a Duty of Care to older people they are assisting. Under the Wrongs Act 1954 a worker may face legal proceedings if found to have committed a wrongful act that has led to a person suffering damage as a consequence of the act.

Duty of Care refers not only to the actions of a worker but also to advice a worker gives, or fails to give.

Reporting Abuse

The Commonwealth Aged Care Act 1997 provides the law covering Australian Government subsidised aged care.

Compulsory reporting currently applies only to Residential Aged Care. Any alleged or suspected physical or sexual assault or abuse must be reported by the Aged Care provider to Police and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission within 24 hours, regardless of any internal investigation. The law also requires service providers to report a resident that is absent without explanation (also known as a missing resident). All other abuse situations must be reported internally and documented by the provider, including the actions taken. Any person, including workers, can report directly to the Commission. More information can be found here.

Recognising Elder Abuse and Risk Factors

Abuse can happen to anyone. There are however a number of known factors that may increase a person’s vulnerability, including isolation from family and friends, cognitive decline, need for care, a history of trauma, a history of family conflict, and language and cultural barriers.

There are some behavioural and physical indications that may be associated with elder abuse – an older person who is being abused may be depressed, worried or anxious without obvious reason, or may be irritable or very emotional with the appearance of being helpless, hopeless or sad, particularly when around a particular person or people. Victims of elder abuse may be reluctant to talk openly, and may feel and exhibit shame, and may become socially isolated and avoid contact, including eye, verbal and physical contacts. An older person who is being abused may present with injuries including bruises, fractures, cuts and internal or external injuries which have not been treated. There may be unexplained weight loss, including signs of malnutrition. Unexplained deterioration of personal hygiene can also be indicative of abuse, as can unexplained sexually transmitted disease and incontinence. Large bank withdrawals, sudden decision to sell property, changes to wills and documents such as Power of Attorney and Guardianship arrangements, unexplained disappearance of personal effects and belongings are also possible signs of abuse.

More resouces can be found here.

To ask questions or for more information call the Helpline on 1800 441 169.

Elder Abuse Tasmania