Preventing Elder Abuse

National Senior Safety Week
November 6 - 12, 2010

Every year, elderly Canadians are abused in their own homes, in relatives’ homes, and even in facilities responsible for their care. It is estimated that between four and 10 per cent of seniors in Canada experience some kind of abuse. And one in five Canadians believes they know of a senior who might be experiencing some form of abuse.

As elders become less able to take care of themselves it becomes more difficult for them to stand up for themselves. They may not see or hear as well, or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for people to take advantage of them.

November 6th – 12th is National Senior Safety Week, and Canada Safety Council wants to raise awareness on elder abuse. What it is, what the signs and symptoms are, and how it can be prevented.

What is elder abuse?

Commonly recognized types of elder abuse include physical, psychological and financial. Often, more than one type of abuse occurs at the same time. Abuse can be a single incident or a repeated pattern of behaviour. Financial abuse is the most commonly reported type of elder abuse.

Physical Abuse
Physical elder abuse is non-accidental use of force against an elderly person that injures or causes physical pain, and may include: striking; hitting; pushing; shaking; burning; shoving; inappropriate physical restraints; or harm created by over or under medicating.

Psychological Abuse
Psychological elder abuse includes actions that decrease their sense of self-worth and dignity, and may include: insults; threats; intimidation; humiliation; harassment; treating them like a child; ignoring; or isolating them from family, friends or regular activities.

Financial Abuse
Financial abuse of elders involves unauthorized use of an elderly person’s funds or property. This includes actions that decrease the financial worth of an elder person without benefit to that person and may include: misusing or stealing their assets, property or money; cashing an elderly person’s cheques without authorization; forging an elderly person’s signature; excessive pressuring on elders to make or change a will, or to sign legal documents that they do not fully understand; and sharing an older person’s home without paying a fair share of the expenses when requested.

Neglect of Elders
Elders who are the most vulnerable to neglect include those who are socially isolated, and those with serious health conditions. Elder neglect can be intentional or unintentional (ignorance or denial). This type of elder abuse may include a caregiver or family member not providing appropriate nourishment, shelter, clothing, medication or medical attention, and assistance with basic necessities.

What are the signs and symptoms of elder abuse?

Elder abuse and neglect can be very difficult to notice. You might not recognize signs as being abuse immediately. They may appear to be symptoms of dementia or signs of the elderly person’s frailty — or caregivers may explain them to you that way. Many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss these warning signs.

The following are a few warning signs that could indicate some form of elder abuse:

  • changes in personality or behaviour in the elder;
  • fear, anxiety, depression or passiveness in relation to a family member, friend or care provider;
  • unexplained physical injuries, such as brusies, sprains, or broken bones;
  • behaviour that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to oneself;
  • dehydration, poor nutrition or poor hygiene;
  • improper use of medication;
  • confusion about new legal documents, such as a new will or a new mortgage;
  • sudden changes in elder’s finances, such as significant withdrawals; and
  • reluctance to speak about the situation.

How can elder abuse be prevented?

What you can do as a concerned family member or friend:

  • Watch for warning signs that might indicate elder abuse. If you suspect abuse, report it.
  • Look for any discrepancies in the elder’s medications.
  • Watch for possible financial abuse. Ask the elder if you may scan bank accounts and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions.
  • Call and visit as often as you can. Help the elder consider you a trusted confidante.
  • Offer to stay with the elder so the caregiver can have a break — on a regular basis, if you can.

If an elder is experiencing abuse they may feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell anyone in fear of retaliation or punishment. It is essential that elder’s have access to information and are aware of available help. Make sure to listen to your elderly parents, friends, or other family members and take their concerns seriously. If you suspect abuse, report it immediately to health care providers, social services, police, legal professionals and/or members of faith communities.

If you are an elder who is being abused, neglected, or exploited, tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust. Other people care and can help you. – 30 –