Elder Abuse: What You Need to Know
Elder abuse is a serious problem in Canada. As many as one in 10 seniors experiences abuse, and one in five Canadians believes they know of a senior who might be suffering from abuse. “Seniors from all walks of life are vulnerable to elder abuse and it is happening in communities across Canada,” says Employment and Social Development Canada.
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.”
Abusers are usually someone who has a close connection with a senior, such as a family member, friend, caregiver or neighbour. Strangers also target seniors, especially those who are isolated. If you know a vulnerable senior, it’s important to monitor their surrounding environment and living conditions, and to speak with them often about how they’re feeling, how they’re being cared for, and whether they feel safe.
Elder abuse is expected to increase as Canada’s population ages, so it’s important to raise awareness of this issue and protect our seniors.
Types of elder abuse
Elder abuse takes many different forms. Learn the signs and symptoms so that you can recognize abuse and call the police for help.
In situations of financial abuse, a senior’s money, property or assets are stolen or exploited, usually by someone they trust. Other forms of financial abuse include pressuring, forcing or tricking a senior into lending or giving money, selling their home, making changes to their will or financial documents, or working for little or no money (such as caring for grandchildren). Financial abuse is the most-reported type of elder abuse.
Signs to look out for are changes in spending patterns, unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices to discontinue utilities. There may also be transfers or withdrawals from bank accounts that the senior can’t explain. The victim may have new “best friends” in their life.
Emotional abuse includes mental pain, anguish and distress caused by verbal and non-verbal acts. This type of abuse can be challenging to spot unless witnessed. One physical symptom of emotional abuse is significant weight loss or gain that is not attributed to other causes. Emotionally abused seniors may also show behavioural signs: confusion or depression, trouble sleeping, cowering in the abuser’s presence or appearing upset, agitated, withdrawn or non-responsive.
Physical abuse includes inflicting physical pain or injury, as well as deprivation of basic needs such as food and medication. Signs include unexplained bruises, welts, swelling, punctures, lacerations or fractures. A physically abused senior may also experience restricted movement, repeated falls or internal injuries. Injuries are often unexplained, or abusers may provide different explanations for how an injury occurred. An abused senior may have a history of similar injuries and/or suspicious hospitalizations. To avoid the detection of abuse, the victim may be taken to a number of different medical facilities for treatment.
Sexual abuse is any sexual interaction that a senior hasn’t consented to. Examples include, but are not limited to, sexual remarks, sexual harassment or threats, unwanted sexual touching or kissing, unnecessary touching of the genitals during the provision of personal care, forced viewing of pornography, sexual exposure or forced intercourse. Victimized seniors who are confused or who live with dementia may not be fully aware that the abuse has happened.
Physical indications that an older person is being sexually abused include bruises on external genitalia or internal thighs, genital or anal pain, irritation or bleeding, and torn, stained or bloody underclothing.
When an elderly person is neglected, they may appear malnourished, dehydrated, confused, inappropriately dressed or under- or over-medicated. Active neglect occurs when a caregiver intentionally fails to provide food, shelter or health care to an older adult in need. Passive neglect refers to situations in which the caregiver is unable to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities due to stress, illness, disability or lack of resources.
Putting safety first
Seniors’ health and safety are often in the hands of other people, including professional caregivers such as nurses and personal support workers. It’s important to ensure that these caregivers are educated and properly trained, and that they have passed a police record check. At Carecor, all job candidates must pass a Vulnerable Sector Check, which screens individuals who want to work with vulnerable people such as seniors and people with disabilities. Our Exemplary Standing with Accreditation Canada is a testament to the fact that we uphold the same hiring standards and patient care delivery as the facilities in which we serve.