What is elder abuse and how do we prevent it?

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Did you know that between 4% and 10% of older adults experience one or more forms of abuse or neglect at some point in their later years?

Findings show that the abuse usually comes from someone they trust or rely on (Canadian research as cited by Prevent Elder Abuse Manitoba/PEAM). What is more concerning is that an estimated 80% of cases of abuse are not reported. Reasons range from being concerned about their abuser (especially if it’s a relative or friend) to being ashamed to tell anyone that a family member is doing harm to them. Some may not also be physically or mentally able to ask for help.

Elder abuse or abuse of older adults refers to “actions that harm an older person or puts at risk the person’s health or welfare” (PEAM). It can also be inaction, as in the case of neglect. It can occur in the home, community, in senior/retirement homes, hospitals or long-term care facilities. Elder abuse is a violation of human rights (The Seniors’ Rights and Elder Abuse Protection Act). Most forms are also considered crimes.

Types and signs of abuse:

Elder abuse can be financial, physical/sexual, psychological, and neglect.

Financial abuse of seniors may include:

  • misusing or stealing a senior’s assets, property or money
  • cashing an elderly person’s cheques without authorization
  • forging an elderly person’s signature
  • unduly pressuring seniors to make or change a will, or to sign legal documents that they do not fully understand

This is the most common form of elder abuse.

Physical and sexual abuse of seniors may include:

  • hitting, pushing or shaking
  • inappropriate physical and chemical restraints
  • harm created by over or under medicating
  • unexplained visible burns, scratches, bruises, cuts or swellings
  • vague or illogical explanations for injuries

Psychological or emotional abuse of seniors may include:

  • intimidation, humiliation and harassment
  • treating them like a child
  • isolating them from family, friends or regular activities

Neglect of seniors can include not providing appropriate:

  • water, food, shelter and clothing
  • medication or medical attention
  • assistance with basic necessities

(Signs of abuse, Facts on the abuse of seniors, Government of Canada)

Prevention and support:

Information and awareness are the best tools to prevent elder abuse. Seniors should know their rights and have easy access to assistance. Meanwhile, caregivers, neighbours and friends should be aware of the signs and symptoms that a senior may be experiencing abuse and take the necessary steps to help out (read: Elder abuse awareness resources from the Government of Canada website).

If you are concerned about the immediate safety of an older adult, call 911. For non-emergencies call the police (204-986-6222). Seniors and caregivers can also ask help from:

  1. Seniors Abuse Support Line – 1-888-869-7183.
  2. Provincial-wide Domestic Violence Information Line – 1-877-977-0007.
  3. Protection for Persons in Care Office (Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living) – This is the agency to call if a senior in a personal care home, hospital or health facility might be a victim of abuse or neglect. Their confidential, toll-free line is 1-866-440-6366 or 204-788-6366 (Winnipeg).
  4. A&O Support Services for Older Adults – Elder Abuse Prevention Services – Counsellors and social workers assist seniors with counselling, support, advocacy and access to emergency accommodation.
  5. Legal Aid Manitoba – 204-985-8500 or 1-800-261-2960.
  6. Law phone-in and lawyer referral program – 204-943-2305 or toll free: 1-800-262-8800 (use from outside Winnipeg only).
  7. Public Guardian and Trustee of Manitoba – The Public Guardian and Trustee of Manitoba is a provincial government Special Operating Agency that manages and protects the affairs of Manitobans who are unable to do so themselves and have no one else willing or able to act. This includes mentally incompetent and vulnerable adults, deceased estates, and children. Contact numbers: 204-945-3744 or 1-866-626-4862.

Sources: What do we mean by Abuse of Older Adults? Prevent Elder Abuse Manitoba (PEAM); Abuse towards older adults, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority; Safety, security and legal matters, Seniors and Health Aging, Manitoba.ca; Not in my Family: Raising awareness on elder abuse, Jewish Child and Family Service; and Elder abuse awareness, Government of Canada. Accessed July 26, 2019.

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