Seniors are generally more vulnerable to a wide range of illness and injury which is often due to reduced physical strength, immune efficiency, and cognitive capacity. Unfortunately, this increased vulnerability also puts older adults at higher risk for being exploited and abused. It may seem appalling that there are people that would take advantage of others in such a defenseless state, but elder abuse occurs more often than you may think.
In fact, it is estimated that as many as 10% of people over the age of 65 in Canada have or will experience some form of abuse.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is defined as an intentional act, or failure to act, that causes harm or creates undue risk for older adults. Another disturbing fact about elder abuse is that is typically perpetrated by a person in a position of power or trust.
Types of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse can come in a variety of forms, some of the most common types are:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional or psychological abuse
- Financial exploitation or abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Neglect or Abandonment
Most often when people hear the word abuse they think of a physical act. Physical elder abuse is the use of intentional force resulting in pain, injury, illness, impairment, distress, and even death. Physical abuse includes actions like hitting, shoving, shaking, burning, restraining, and inappropriate administration of medications.
Emotional or Psychological Abuse
This type of abuse can include any verbal or non-verbal behaviors that can cause mental anguish or detract from a person’s self-worth or dignity. Emotional abuse can come in the form of threats, intimidation, insults, ridicule, humiliation, harassment, disrespect, ignoring, and isolation from friends and family.
Financial Exploitation or Abuse
It is well known that seniors are all too often the target of financial abuse and scams to get them to part with their savings. Financial exploitation includes any unauthorized use of seniors’ funds or property. Financial abuse typically comes in the form of misused cheques, credit cards, bank information, legal documents, stolen cash or assets, and identity theft.
Senior sexual abuse includes any forced or unwanted sexual interaction or inappropriate physical contact without consent. It can come in the form of physical acts, harassment, sexual comments, or being forced to view pornographic material or sexual acts.
Neglect or Abandonment
Neglect involves the failure to meet basic human needs for seniors by a person or person in charge of their care. This type of abuse is generally the most common and can be intentional or unintentional. Caregiver neglect includes not providing necessary nourishment, shelter, clothing, personal hygiene, medications, and other required medical care.
Recognizing the Signs of Elder Abuse
The outward signs and symptoms of elder abuse may not be immediately apparent or noticeable if you are not sure what you are looking for. Some signs of elder abuse to be aware of include:
- Personality or behavioral changes
- Increased anxiety, fear, isolation, or depression
- Inexplicable physical injuries
- Disheveled appearance, neglected hygiene
- Messy home or living area
- Missing cash or other items
- Unusual financial activity
- Poor nutrition
- Improper use of medications
- Suspicious changes in legal documents
- Any mention of unwanted sexual attention
Preventing Elder Abuse
One of the most effective ways to prevent and put an end to elder abuse is to report it at the first sign of suspicion. Fear and shame can deter seniors from reporting cases of abuse on their own. Therefore is critical to report any signs of elder abuse immediately to Adult Protective Services. The best thing you can do is watch and listen for the signs and have regular conversations with your elderly loved one about their health and wellbeing.