Elder Abuse Awareness

June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a day dedicated to bringing up elder abuse as a topic of conversation, to help spread awareness and education. Elder abuse is the unfortunate dark side of aging, experienced when an individual chooses to take advantage of the person they are intended to be caring for, causing harm and suffering instead. Elder individuals and individuals with disabilities are at a heightened risk for abuse due to the sometimes physical and mental impairment that comes with the natural aging process. When a person begins to need help from others to successfully care for themselves that is when the possibility of abuse heightens.

More often than not abusers are close and formerly trusted individuals that know their victim. They may be a family member, friend, neighbor, or caregiver. Both men and women abuse, and most commonly it is a spouse or grown child that is the abuser. Abuse comes in many forms: physical pain inflicted, forced or coerced sexual activity, confinement and isolation, emotional attacks and intimidation, neglect, deprivation of food or aid, and financial exploitation.

“Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Some estimates range as high as 5 million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.” National Council on Aging

Signs of elder abuse:

Victims of elder abuse often share similar emotional symptoms to those who are victims of abuse at any age: emotional withdrawal and withdrawal from activities formerly enjoyed, unusual depression, changes in alertness/awareness, strained relationships, and unusual fights with their caregivers. Their finances may abruptly change with no reason; they may show physical signs of abuse such as bruises, pressure marks, scratches, cuts, or bedsores, weight loss, and poor hygiene (signs of neglect). Observing behavior between their caregiver and them could also hint to abuse if disrespect, belittling, insults, regular yelling and anger are a part of their exchange.

What to do if you suspect elder abuse:

If you suspect abuse, report it immediately to your local Adult Protective Services department. If you don’t know how to contact them, contacting your local police can lead you in the right direction. Remember that you don’t have to be able to prove abuse, that’s up to the individuals investigating your concerns. Some people are shy to report a problem when they feel they have no solid proof of an act of abuse, but going with your gut and reporting any concerns is always the best course of action. If your loved one is in a long-term care home, contacting your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman is the first step to dealing with suspected care home abuse.

How can you prevent abuse?

Whether you’re a family member or friend hoping to prevent future harm, or are worried about your personal future, there are a few things that can be done to help prevent abuse from happening. Maintaining a strong level of independence is important in attempting to prevent abuse.

  • Maintain outside relationships with friends, your community clubs, volunteer work, and other endeavors. Keep a support system outside your immediate family or caregivers that will be able to sound the alarm in case of any concern.
  • Understand your legal rights, and plan for your health and legal needs in the future. Check your will regularly, and keep aware of your finances. Never be coerced to sign anything without reading things fully and getting a second opinion if desired.
  • Keep in personal contact with the healthcare professionals that help manage your health. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and understand what and why you’re being prescribed, and what and how the status of your health is.
  • Have your own private phone, open your own mail, and manage things like prescriptions. Cheques should be sent direct deposit straight to your bank account, so a record of your transactions is always available.

What happens after abuse?

Victims of abuse often suffer from shame, embarrassment, and the emotional and physical effects of abuse long after the abuser has been caught and punished, and abuse has stopped. A strong, healthy support system is the key to help a victim regain their trust of others and build up their life again. The most important thing for victims to know is that it isn’t their fault, and that they aren’t alone.

Your local Adult Protective Services department will also have a list of support services to help victims after abuse has ended. Domestic abuse support groups can provide the knowledge that they are not alone as victims, it breaks isolation and provides access to the possibilities of new friends, and support and encouragement from the group can fuel inner strength to move forward.

Encouraging accessing old clubs, volunteer opportunities, groups, or their faith can help break isolation patterns and build up confidence. Building up an accessible support network can provide strength and reassurance, and encouraging independence by increasing knowledge and access to their needs can help instill confidence.

By educating yourself and spreading awareness so that others do the same, elder abuse, and abuse of all kinds, can be decreased. By being vigilant, and keeping an alert and honest eye out for signs of maltreatment, we can improve the lives of others around us, and make sure that growing older does not have to be a fearful, or unhappy experience.

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