Facing facts about elder abuse

By Moneca Jantzen

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and is intended to shine a light on an ugly reality.

Just as with women and children, we are supposed to treat our elders with reverence, respect, kindness and care — a group of people that should be treated well and protected from harm. For a number of reasons our elders can become vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and poor treatment by family members, caregivers and perfect strangers as their circumstances change.

Perhaps your mother has been befriended by a someone after the death of her spouse who manages to gain her trust, but one day your mom notices things are going missing including money out of her wallet.

Maybe your grandson has moved into the spare room with a promise to help you but instead becomes verbally abusive and intimidating and more of a problem than a help.

A new caregiver is tending to your father a couple of times a week and he’s acting fearful and getting an awful lot of bruises and unexplained injuries.

One of your siblings has managed to alienate your parents from the rest of the family. Suddenly your parents are having financial problems and need to sell their home.

Someone knocks on your grandmother’s door and talks her into signing a dubious contract for a service she doesn’t need.

While hypothetical, all of these scenarios are far too real and happen much too often. Measures must be taken to guard against all of them.

Making seniors aware of what can happen as they age and ways that others may abuse, exploit or harm them is critical. General vigilance by others is also key.

A 2015 Canada Statistics report suggests that about four percent of seniors will experience some form of abuse. This means that in this growing demographic, estimated to be 25 percent of the Canadian population by 2031, many people will be affected.

Fortunately there are local resources available for informing oneself about the problem and/or getting help.

The Centre for Seniors Information (CSI) HEROS Program (Help Educate Refer Outreach for Seniors) started in 2001/2002 and was created to provide support and information for those who are experiencing abuse and do not know where to get help or what they can do to prevent the abuse from continuing. This also applies to those who have witnessed or are concerned about a senior who they believe may be in an abusive situation.

The HEROS Program is funded through grants and donations along with the rest of the programs offered by CSI. New Horizons for Seniors is a grant that has supported this program over the years.

Brenda Prevost, executive director of CSI and national peer trainer, is a passionate advocate for seniors facing any form of elder abuse.

“Generally it is a challenge to estimate the prevalence and incidence of elder abuse. This is due to many factors such as under-reporting, confusion about what constitutes elder abuse, and a general lack of awareness, among other factors. However, based on available Canadian data, it is estimated that between four and ten percent of older adults in Canada experience some type of abuse. (National Seniors Council, 2007)” explains Prevost.

Elder abuse can take several forms. Among them:

• Neglect: Signs include unkempt appearance, broken glasses, lack of appropriate clothing as well as malnutrition, dehydration and poor personal hygiene.

• Physical Abuse: Signs include untreated or unexplainable injuries in various stages of healing, limb and skull fractures, bruises, black eyes and welts.

• Psychological/emotional abuse: Watch for changes in behavior (emotional upset/agitation resulting in sucking, biting, rocking), withdrawal or non-responsiveness.

• Economic/financial abuse: Watch for sudden changes in bank accounts or banking activity, and major changes to legal documents such as powers of attorney and wills.

“Most people do not know what steps to take when they are a victim or have witnessed abuse. For the victim there is fear of retribution from the abuser, the feeling of helplessness and embarrassment particularly when the abuser is a family member. Those who witness abuse often do not report it because they are not sure about what they have seen or heard, they do not want to get involved or they do not know who to report it to,” said Prevost.

Formerly capable and independent family members may become victims of elder abuse for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they have become lonely following the death of a spouse or their best friend or are becoming increasingly dependent on others due to mobility, cognitive and health challenges as they age. Obviously these forms of abuse can happen to anyone at any age, but elder abuse often occurs because the abuser has managed to gain power and control over an older person. In some cases, the abuse may be a result of addiction issues (drugs, alcohol or gambling), mental health problems, a cycle of family violence or ageism. Abuse can occur when the abuser wants to intimidate, isolate, dominate or control another person.

Seven percent of older adults report some form of emotional and financial abuse by an adult child, spouse or caregiver.

Seven per cent report emotional abuse, one per cent financial abuse and one per cent physical or sexual abuse.

In 32 per cent of reported elder abuse cases, the offender is a family member (adult child, or current or former spouse).

“Advocacy plays a large role in the HEROS Program,” explains Prevost.

“Working with a senior who has been abused can require many hours of one-on-one support. For example, when financial abuse is reported, CSI helps the senior by assisting them in regaining control of their assets or bank account. Every case is different and depending on the situation CSI may involve the RCMP, referral to a lawyer or get assistance from a family member of friend that the victim trusts. When talking with a senior about emotional abuse we may also connect the senior with a professional counsellor, a peer counsellor, mental health, or group support. It is important to also develop a plan of action to ensure their safety moving forward,” said Prevost.

In an effort to prevent elder abuse, here are some valuable tips to consider:

Tips for People at Risk

• Maintain your relationships with friends.

• Learn to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect.

• Report any abusive activity.

• Keep your money in a bank.

• Keep your valuables in a safety deposit box.

• Know your financial position.

• Deposit your own pension or disability cheques or arrange for direct deposit.

• Join a senior’s group or service club.

• Understand your rights as much as possible.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Tips for the Community

• Offer counselling services and self-help groups for seniors and their caregivers.

• Make sure that available programs and services are publicized.

• Educate the public on the aging process.

• Create a network of support and advocacy for seniors and their families.

Tips for Family Members or Friends

• Keep close ties with older relatives and friends.

• Learn to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect.

• Discuss any signs of abuse or neglect with the senior

• Suggest counselling for the family and tell them about support services.

• If necessary, offer advice on financial matters.

• Try to reduce the stress in the family.

• Find ways to limit the person’s isolation.

HEROS is a program offered by our local Centre for Seniors Information (CSI) offering help and information for the prevention of elder abuse. Help or information can be accessed by visiting the Centre for Seniors in Brock Shopping Centre of by calling 778-470-6000. Ask for Brenda or Brandi.

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