June 15th is Elder Abuse Day, and this is an excellent time to bring attention to this important issue that affects our families, neighbours and communities.
In general, elder abuse is an action or behavior that causes distress against an older person. The action is typically caused by someone who is in a position of trust. This could be a caretaker, family member, medical professional or someone working in a long-term care facility. Abuse can be one single incident or an ongoing habitual behavior, but in all cases it causes physical, psychological or financial distress for the senior adult.
Elder abuse can be physical abuse, but it can also be many other types of abuse. Common types of elder abuse include:
- Physical Abuse – This is the non-accidental use of force against an older person that causes injury or pain.
- Emotional Abuse – This involves speaking to or treating the elderly individual in a way that causes pain or distress on an emotional level.
- Sexual Abuse – Sexual contact or action with an elderly person without his or her consent, including showing the individual pornographic material or forcing the individual to undress, is abuse.
- Neglect or Abandonment – Caretakers have an obligation to provide a measure of care to the elderly they are entrusted with, and neglect can be a form of abuse, whether intentional or unintentional.
- Financial Exploitation – Taking the property or funds of an elderly individual, or fraudulent actions that encourage the individual to give up his or her property, is considered financial abuse.
- Healthcare Fraud and Abuse – Unethical doctors or medical professionals may fraudulently try to get more money from the elderly for the services they provide, including charging for services not provided or overcharging for care given. Healthcare fraud can also include recommending treatments that are not needed.
Loved ones who find out their elderly family members or friends are victims of abuse often express surprise. Knowing the signs of abuse can help you take measures to stop these actions before they cause significant damage.
If an older adult is the victim of abuse, you may notice unexplained injuries, poor hygiene, poor physical health not connected to a specific illness, or periods of fear and anxiety. Individuals may also act passively towards their abuser, when otherwise they would act affectionately. Confusion or changes with legal documents, like the will, or a sudden decrease in available cash flow can be another sign.
Often seniors are unwilling or reluctant to speak up about the situation. If you are noticing these signs and symptoms, don’t overlook them. Dig a little deeper to ensure that your loved one is not being victimized or neglected.
One of the first steps to take to prevent elder abuse is to ensure that all of the older individual’s legal affairs are in order. It’s harder to swindle someone who has a legitimate will and power of attorney document in place.
Next, speak up at any time if you are uncomfortable with the care you see given to yourself or someone you love. Tell someone you trust and get help reporting the abuse or neglect.
When contracting health agencies, make sure their nurses and caregivers are licensed and have both criminal record check and reference check completed.
Finally, take measures to ensure elders are not isolated. Stay in touch with friends and family, so you are aware of what is going on in the older individual’s life. It’s harder for someone to take advantage of an older adult who is surrounded by caring, loving family.
If you or someone you love is the victim of elder abuse, you have options. If the abuse has created an emergency situation or immediate danger, call 911 or the local emergency number. For non-emergency abuse situations, the Seniors Abuse and Information Line (1-866-437-1940) offers counseling and advice to seniors in Canada to help address abuse situations. Many government organizations can help, depending on the type of abuse, and the Seniors Abuse and Information Line can help you get the right organization to help.