Abuse can take place in any situation and any person is at risk. A vulnerable person is someone who may be restricted in capacity to guard themself against harm or exploitation or to report such harm or exploitation.
Abuse can be perpetrated (carried out) by a range of people, such as strangers, institutions, or family members. It may happen when an older person or a person with a disability lives alone or with a relative. It may also happen in residential or day-care settings, in hospitals, home support services and other places assumed to be safe, or in public places.
Elder abuse is the abuse of someone aged 65 or over and it happens in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust. Elder abuse can be a single or repeated act, or a lack of action, which causes harm or distress to the older person, or that violates their human and civil rights.
Find information on recognising the signs of child abuse, and the protection of vulnerable children, in our page Child abuse and child protection.
Types of elder abuse
There are different types of elder abuse. The abuse may be carried out deliberately (on purpose), or through negligence (not doing what it is your duty to do) or ignorance (not knowing something you should know). An older person may experience more than one form of abuse at any given time.
Types of abuse include:
Psychological abuse: this includes emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact (taking away or preventing all contact), humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, isolation or withdrawal from services or supportive networks
Physical abuse: this includes slapping, pushing, hitting, kicking, misuse of medication, inappropriate restraint (including physical and chemical restraint) or sanctions
Financial or material abuse: this includes theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance, or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits
Neglect: this includes self-neglect and acts of omission including ignoring medical or physical care needs, the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating
Discriminatory abuse: this includes ageism, racism, sexism, that based on a person’s disability, and other forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment
Institutional abuse: this may occur within residential care, nursing homes, acute hospitals and any other in-patient settings, and may involve poor standards of care, rigid routines and inadequate responses to complex needs
Sexual abuse: this may include rape and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the older adult has not consented, or could not consent, or into which they were forced to consent
You can get information on the various forms of elder abuse, and how to recognise the signs of abuse, on hse.ie.
Reporting a concern
The HSE has Safeguarding and Protection Teams in place in every region of the country. These teams are responsible for adult safeguarding within services for older persons and services for people with disabilities.
You can also contact the HSE Information Line on 1850 24 1850.
In an emergency, where a person is at immediate risk, you should contact the Garda Síochana or Emergency Services on 999 or 112.
Further information on safeguarding of older people
You can visit the HSE website for information on how to protect yourself or protect someone else you are concerned about.
Banking and Payments Federation Ireland has published a Guide to Safeguarding your Money Now and in the Future (pdf). It has information to help older people recognise the signs of elder financial abuse and keep control of their affairs.
Safeguarding Ireland was established by the HSE to raise awareness of and tackle abuse of vulnerable adults. Visit the Safeguarding Ireland website for more information on its policies and publications.
You can get more information on help and support services available from the HSE Information Line (see below).