Elder Abuse: It Deserves more Attention

By Victoria Brewster, MSW

What is Elder Abuse? It is abuse that is aimed towards a senior/older adult by family, friends, professionals, and society in general. It can be: financial, emotional, verbal, psychological, neglect, physical and/or sexual. It causes distress and/or harm to another, which can be a one time or repeated act.

“In 2009, more than 154,000 or 2% of all Canadians aged 55 and older living in the 10 provinces reported having been the victim of a violent crime. Of the approximately 154,000 older Canadians who were violently victimized in 2009, close to 39,000 were physically or sexually assaulted by a current or ex-spouse. Older Canadians were also less likely than younger Canadians to self-report having suffered emotional abuse by a spouse. For example, while close to 1 in 5 (19%) Canadians aged 15 to 54 experienced emotional abuse by a current or ex-spouse (legal or common-law), the same was true for just over 1 in 10 (13%) older Canadians. In the same vein, older Canadians were also less likely than younger Canadians to report having been financially abused by a spouse, in that they were prevented from having knowledge about or access to the family income (2% versus 3%). Close to 107,000 or 2% of Canadians aged 65 or older said that a child, relative, friend or caregiver had been emotionally or financially abusive in the 5 years preceding the survey. In 2010, the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre received close to 50,000 complaints of mass marketing fraud, the majority of which were initiated by telephone.” (4)

“According to Eurostat Statistics population projections (2011) in the countries of this proposed project show that the percentage of people aged 65 years and over will increase to 20.2% in Ireland, 25.4% in Romania, 25.5% in Finland and 29.8% in Italy by 2040. In Italy almost half of those persons will be over 80 years. In Ireland the current percentage of the population aged 65 years and over is 11.7%” (Census data 2011)

In the recent years, elder abuse is a growing concern in European countries as well. This is because of an altered irreversible age pyramid. In 2010, 17% of the population comprised of people over the age of 65 years. However, according to the latest analyses, by 2060, there would be double the number of people over the age of 65. In addition, the people over the age of 80years will triple (6).

“One of the few cross-national studies of EU countries is the ABUEL (Abuse and health among elderly in Europe) study, which examined urban populations in seven EU countries(2). This project showed a prevalence of various abuses ranging from mental (19.4%), physical (2.7%), sexual (0.7%), financial abuse (3.8%) and injury (0.7%) (6)

This is not a subject that many want to talk about, deal with, report or be trained on, but it is reality. How, as a professional, whether a social worker, nurse, physician, homecare worker, lawyer, financial advisor, or other healthcare or social service professional, would you want to be trained or gain knowledge?

Some examples of elder abuse are: adult children discussing placement while the older adult is present, but not include him/her in the decision-making. An adult son or daughter who is verbally abusive towards their mother and demanding a check to be used to pay the mother’s bills, an adult child talking on his/her cell phone to a friend saying that if his/her mother will not take her granddaughter for the weekend, she will see the granddaughter much less often.

To get old is hard and scary but it can have a positive experience depending on the society. The aging parent(s) have to depend on others for IADL’s (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living) like doctor visits, driving, finances and so forth; or ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living) like dressing, eating and food preparation, lack of friends, lack of hearing and vision etc. To manage their house becomes hard and mostly their adult children and relatives live in a different city, thus forcing the senior to depend on any available help like agencies for assistance, and friends.

This dependence on others does allow one to live independently in their home vs. a residence or institution. In reality, most want to ‘age in place.’

Possible Abuse: What to Look For and What to Do:

Some Signs of Abuse:

  • Criticizing
  • Ignoring
  • Isolating a senior from others
  • Taking control of a senior’s affairs, i.e. finances, medication, medical appointments, hiring of homecare assistance, etc.
  • Shouting at a senior
  • Hitting, shoving or threatening a senior with physical behavior.
  • Removing the decision-making power or a senior when they are cognizant.
  • Over or under medicating
  • Food, clothing, hydration is with-held.

To Counter the Possible Abuse:

  • Report the potential abuse to family members, friends, acquaintances, and/or professionals.

  • Call your local, provincial or state Elder Abuse Hotline for information, clarification, and with specific questions. Arm yourself with knowledge as the senior, but also as the professional who may be witnessing the abuse.

Some Resources:

  1. HelpGuide.org

  2. http://maltraitanceaines.gouv.qc.ca/en/

  3. http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/elder_abuse/en/

  4. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11627-eng.htm

  5. http://www.combatingelderabuse.eu/?page_id=85

  6. http://social.un.org/ageing-working-group/documents/ElderAbuseNGOEWG2012.pdf