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Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is harm done to an older person that is violent or abusive. Elder abuse could be caused by a family member, a friend, someone the older person relies on for basic needs, or staff in a group residential settings, such as retirement homes, lodges, seniors’ group residences, supportive housing and in long-term health care facilities, such as nursing home, homes for the aged, and public and chronic care hospitals.

Some examples of elder abuse are physical abuse such as slapping, pushing, or beating an older person, and/or forced confinement in a room, bed, or chair. Sexual abuse such as any unwanted form of sexual activity or sexual assault. Financial abuse such as forcing an older person to sell personal property, stealing an older person’s money, pension cheques, or possessions, committing fraud, forgery, or extortion, and /or misusing a Power of Attorney. Neglect such as abandoning an older person, or withholding food and health services, and/or deliberately failing to give a dependent older person what they need and Mental abuse such as humiliating, insulting, frightening, threatening, or ignoring an older person an /or treating an older person like a child.

Victims of elder abuse may show signs of any of the following symptoms:

  • Depression, fear, anxiety, or passivity
  • Unexplained physical injuries
  • Dehydration or lack of food
  • Poor hygiene, rashes, or pressure sores
  • Over-sedation

There are other signs of elder abuse. For example, if money or personal items such as eyeglasses, jewellery, hearing aids, or dentures are missing without explanation, it may be because of elder abuse. No one should jump to conclusions, but signs and symptoms should be taken seriously. What sometimes seems like self-neglect might turn out to be elder abuse.

Elder abuse happens because of the abuser’s power and control over an older person. In some cases, it may also be linked to an abuser’s drug or alcohol problem, history of anti-social behaviour, or mental health problems. Abuse is more likely to happen when the family is going through a rough period of high stress, including the stress of looking after the older person.

The abuser may not allow people to visit or talk to the older person. The older person may be isolated from the community, social services, and even from other family members. In some cases, the elder abuse may be part of a cycle of violence in the family. The person who abuses an elderly parent might have been abused by that parent. The elder abuse could be a form of getting even with the parent for past wrongs. Staff in long-term care homes, such as homes for the aged and charitable institutions, might abuse residents physically or mentally. Abusers are likely to be frustrated staff members who are not able to do their jobs properly. This can be because of poor training, low pay, over-work, under-staffing, or personal circumstances. These problems may be factors in the abuse, but they do not justify it.

Most victims of elder abuse are mentally competent and able to make decisions for themselves. Most are capable of taking care of their own health needs and do not need constant care. Do not assume that they are mentally incapable merely because they are older adults. Abuse can happen to any older person, but the greatest physical harm is most often done to women. Isolation and abuse go hand in hand. Many victims of abuse are isolated from their friends, neighbours, and other family members.

Elder Abuse, The Hidden Crime published by CLEO July, 2005
Elder Abuse Crime Stoppers 1- 800-222-TIPS (8477)


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