The World Health Organization defines Elder Abuse 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. Elder abuse can take various forms such as financial, physical, psychological and sexual. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect". While an estimated 4 - 10% of seniors experience abuse, only 20% of incidents are reported to someone who is able to help.
Given the significant increase in the percentage of seniors in our population, it is imperative that we take action to assist seniors who are at risk and prevent instances of elder abuse. In my mind raising awareness about elder abuse is the first step. How can someone report elder abuse if they do not realize or know what "elder abuse" is? Here's a short description of different kinds of elder abuse:
1. Financial abuse
Elder Abuse Ontario defines financial abuse as "any improper conduct, done with or without the informed consent of the senior that results in a monetary or personal gain to the abuser and/or monetary or personal loss for the older adult". It is the most common form of elder abuse.
2. Psychological abuse
Emotional and Psychological abuse is any action, verbal or non-verbal, that lessens a person’s sense of identity, dignity and self-worth.
3. Physical abuse
Physical abuse is any act of violence or rough handling that may or may not result in physical injury but causes physical discomfort or pain.
4. Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse is any sexual behavior directed toward an older adult without that person’s full knowledge and consent; it includes coercing an older person through force, trickery, threats or other means into unwanted sexual activity. Sexual abuse also includes sexual contact with seniors who are unable to grant consent and unwanted sexual contact between service providers and their elderly clients. Sexual abuse can be very difficult to identify as embarrassment and shame may prevent the issue from being talked about or reported.
Neglect is not meeting the basic needs of the older person. Active (intentional) neglect is the deliberate withholding of care or the basic necessities of life to an older adult for whom they are caring. Passive (unintentional) neglect is the failure to provide proper care to an older adult due to lack of knowledge, experience /ability or awareness of how to access local support systems.
How can we prevent elder abuse?
As a health advocate, I work with seniors and caregivers everyday. I try my best to raise awareness about elder abuse. Here's what the Canada safety council suggests to try and prevent it:
- 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
More often than not, 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 seniors 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.
In Ontario, there are a number of programs and services available to help to seniors, their families and caregivers who are experiencing or are at-risk of elder abuse. They can provide options and support in helping to resolve abusive situations. Find a list of these organizations and their contact information here.
Here's a list of Provincial Organizations that can help seniors and their family / caregiver.
I can imagine how challenging it can be for someone who has witnessed, or is a victim of elder abuse to come forth and ask for help. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by providing you with accurate information, connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
Legal Definitions of Elder Abuse and Neglect https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/fv-vf/elder-aines/def/p23.html
Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse https://cnpea.ca/en/
Elder Abuse Awareness https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/campaigns/elder-abuse.html
Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario http://www.elderabuseontario.com/
A Practical Guide to Elder Abuse and Neglect Law in Canada https://www.bcli.org/project/practical-guide-elder-abuse-and-neglect-law-canada
Police-reported family violence against seniors https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2017001/article/14698/05-eng.htm#r4
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.