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.
Elder abuse has been defined as “…a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
It is elder abuse when there is an imbalance of power, when one person uses their power or influence to take advantage of, or to control, the older adult.
There are several kinds of elder abuse.
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 bruises, 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.
Our Province wide confidential Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) is a safe place for older adults, and those who care about them to talk to a trained intake worker about abuse or mistreatment, receive information and support about issues that impact the health and well being of an older adult. SAIL intake workers are trained to provide a listening, non-judgmental and supportive ear and provide resources, referrals to our free internal programs and support.
SAIL – Seniors Abuse and Information Line
Call: 604-437-1940 or Toll Free: 1-866-437-1940 7 days a week (excluding holidays), 8am to 8pm. Language interpretation is available Monday through Friday, 9am to 4pm. TTY Teletype for the deaf who have access to TTY equipment: 604-428-3359 or toll free 1-855-306-1443.
Here in Cranbrook, Seniors-In-Partnership hosted a World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 14th. Volunteers passed out free face masks and cake to seniors outside the Seniors Hall. The event was sponsored by the BC Association of Community Response Networks. To learn more about stopping adult abuse and neglect go to https://bccrns.ca/