This day was recognised by the UN in 2011. On this day, individuals and organisations worldwide highlight the importance of the rights of older people as prevention against the mistreatment and harm occurring in their communities.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is anything that causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust. It is often hidden. Many things can influence whether a person talks about the abuse:
they don’t recognise that the behaviour is abusive or fear for their safety
they experience feelings of guilt, are dependent on their abuser or fear retaliation
they desire to protect the perpetrator from negative consequences
they lack trust in or rapport with clinicians
Types of abuse and potential signs:
Physical abuse: slapping, punching – unexplained illness or injuries
Financial abuse: forcing an older person to hand over money/assets – unable to pay bills or unusual bank account activity
Neglect: not providing appropriate health/personal care – worsening health, weight loss, unkempt home
Psychological abuse: limiting the older persons’ choices – fear, anxiety, depression, social isolation
Social abuse: preventing contact with family and friends – loss of self-esteem, withdrawn
Sexual abuse: sexual assault, forcing the older person to see sexually explicit material – incontinence, injury to parts of the body and mouth, unexplained sexually transmitted infection
Steps to take if someone tells you they are experiencing abuse:
LISTEN with empathy and without judgement – ask questions and get informed
BELIEVE what the person is saying and keep checking in
ACKNOWLEDGE that he/she is not to blame
EMPOWER the older person and ask him/her what he/she wants to happen: encourage plans for increased safety and involve safe family and friends
If you believe someone to be in imminent danger, call the Police on 000
Ralph is a 71-year-old man who says that his grandson has stolen $40,000 from him. He is upset, angry and not sure what to do. How to assist Ralph?
Betty is a 70-year-old woman. She has difficulty walking due to a stroke. She lives at home with a son who has a disability and is verbally aggressive. Betty sometimes does not have access to food and money. How to assist Betty?
Concetta is an 81-year-old woman with advanced dementia. She is cared for at home by her son, who is well-intentioned but is not meeting Concetta’s basic needs for showering, meals, and medication. How to assist Concetta?
Author: Sr Trish Franklin ibvm, Member (in the role as Consumer Advisor) of the Committee for Elder Abuse at Sunshine Hospital/Western Health