This is a day to get the word out about an important and growing issue and concern in the lives of many older adults, seniors and their families.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is any kind of maltreatment of an older person and includes the following:
- Emotional, verbal and/or psychological abuse and intimidation - Name calling, yelling, manipulation, or any type of verbal behaviour or treatment which attacks, degrades, or diminishes the emotional, or psychological health, safety, integrity and well being of another person. This can include the use of words to intimidate, or instill fear in the targeted person. This form of abuse also includes alienating and increasing the social isolation and dependence of the target on their abuser.
- Financial abuse and/or exploitation - This occurs when someone abuses, improperly uses, or exploits the financial resources, or assets of a senior for their own personal gain. This can include an individual preying upon the kindness and vulnerability of a older person with the goal of gaining control of their financial resources and assets, or living off of, or exploiting a senior.
- Physical abuse and intimidation - This includes physical actions such as hitting, pushing, punching, pulling, pinching, biting, shoving, or any other physical contact that is harmful and impacts the physical integrity of the person this is done to. These actions do not have to leave bruises, marks, or cause other physical injuries to be considered abuse. Some abusers may also use physical intimidation and presence to overpower and control their targets as well.
- Sexual abuse - This includes any unwanted sexual touching, contact with a seniors private body parts without consent, and sexual assault (rape).
- Institutional abuse - This type of abuse occurs in institutional settings such as residential care facilities, hospitals, or other settings where seniors live, and are cared for by others. This can include neglect of necessities, such as food, personal care and hygiene, or other resources that the senior is reliant upon the institution and its staff to provide.
Neglect is any kind of conduct which denies a person with the necessities of life, such as food, water, shelter, medical care, medications, or anything that is essential for their health, safety and well being.
Who Are the Most Common Types of People who Engage in Elder Abuse?
- Family members, including spouses, adult children, or others.
- Caregivers, family members or professionals working with seniors in institutional care settings.
- Relative strangers can also befriend and move forward quickly with an agenda to gain advantage to abuse and exploit seniors, particularly in the area of their financial resources and assets.
These can vary depending on the type of abuse, or neglect, a senior is experiencing. Some general signs to take note of include the following:
- Changes in the overall health, and well being of the senior. This includes changes to sleep, eating, or toileting behaviours, or the interest and openness of talking to others.
- Increased anxiety, changes in mood, or fears expressed/fearful behaviour about being around certain people, going to certain places, or being alone.
- Increase in low, or sad mood, or expressions of this and feelings of hopelessness in the absence of any known changes, or losses.
- The appearance of physical injuries and evasive replies when asked about how these injuries occurred.
- Broken personal equipment (such as eye glasses, or mobility aids), or property damage in the person's home.
- Increasing symptoms from health conditions that used to be under control with medications. This could indicate that medications are not being provided, or not consistently being provided, or taken.
- Self-reports from the senior about others' maltreatment, abuse, or neglect.
- The sudden appearance of a stranger in the older adults life and the sense they are being "swept off their feet" in a whirlwind romance that moves very quickly, including the person moving into the home of the senior, or that the older adult is financially providing for another person.
- Changes in a senior's personality, demeanor and how they engage with others. This could include increased conflict, evasiveness, confusion and secrecy with close relatives and friends, especially in the context of a new relationship with a stranger.
- Notable decreases in the time the senior spends with, or communicates with family members and close friends alone.
- Changes in their communication patterns, which can include monitoring, or the presence of their new partner during communications with others.
- Increasing social isolation and alienation from family members and close friends.
- Changes occurring in the financial life of the senior, such as making changes to Power of Attorney, Representation Agreements (in the absence of specific reasons for doing so), and/or increasing sums of money being used, or transferred out of bank accounts.
- Family members and friends develop non-specific, vague feelings of concern and worry about the senior and how they are really doing, although they may report things are fine.
- A history of spousal and family violence. These dynamics and vulnerability to abuse often continue once a person is an older adult.
- Seniors who are socially isolated and dependent upon family members, caregivers or others to have their needs met.
- Seniors who are lonely, have experienced significant losses and who strongly desire companionship are at increased vulnerability.
- Older adults who have financial resources and assets. Some individuals are skillful at identifying seniors who have desirable assets and resources and who are vulnerable. These people will form a plan and agenda to court, ingratiate, and/or show interest in the senior with the intent of exploiting and gaining access to the targets assets.
- Keep a close connection with, and an eye on, the seniors in your life. Spend time together, keep in contact by phone, email, or any other means to keep the lines of communication open.
- Make sure the person knows you care about them and are there to help in any way they need you. A lot of seniors do not want to burden others if they are struggling. Victims of abuse also often feel shame, embarrassment, or humiliation, or have even been threatened if they speak out about what they've been going through.
- Monitor and keep an even closer eye on the situation if a new person has quickly entered the life of the older adult and the relationship appears to be progressing quite fast, or the senior indicates they have started providing financial, or material support for that new person.
- Ensure that the senior has completed Advance Care planning documents, including an Enduring Power of Attorney, and Representation Agreements to ensure that someone responsible and reliable is involved in their financial and health care decision-making. Make sure if you are in these official roles that you have access to the seniors passwords for online banking (only use this information if needed) and information about where their important documents and assets are located.
- Sensitively offer to assist and support your family member with financial management of their bills, assets, or other things, if this is a source of concern for them, or family members.
Designated Responders for Elder Abuse, Neglect and Self-neglect complaints
- If you are an older adult who has been abused or mistreated call the Seniors Abuse & Information Line (SAIL) at 604-437-1940 or toll free at 1-866-437-1940, 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., to get a referral to their legal advocate and other programs.
- This organization provides information, resources, training, and assistance to seniors and their families.
- Visit their webpage here: http://seniorsfirstbc.ca/
- 1-800-563-0808 for toll-free, confidential, multilingual service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. u or someone you know are a victim of crime and need more information or support, call VictimLink BC at
- For more information, visit the webpage: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/criminal-justice/victims-of-crime/victimlinkbc
Local Police Authorities
- In cases of serious Elder Abuse, you may want to contact your local police authority to make a report. Some large municipalities may have a special unit that handles Elder Abuse cases. This may be part of a Domestic Violence unit (DVU) and there might be a Victims Services Worker who can provide information, resources and/or support the senior and/or family member in elder abuse cases.
About the Author:
Tracey Young, BA, MSW, RSW is a Registered Social Worker in B.C. who provides counselling, consulting, Advance Care and personal planning services to individuals and families around the province. Visit her website here for more information about the services she provides: http://catalystbc.ca