This week marks Elder Abuse Day on June 15th. It is not pleasant to think that older people might be abused in some way which is probably why most of us don’t tend to recognize the signs that it may be happening. We like to think that our ‘elders and betters’ are respected for the wisdom that comes with their years of living. Unfortunately though, elder abuse can and does occur in our society at varying degrees of seriousness.
”A single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person or violates their human and civil rights.” (Protecting our Future, Report of the Working Group on Elder Abuse, September 2002)
If you suspect someone may be experiencing abuse, it is important to act. Action could include speaking to their doctor or contacting the HSE who have dedicated elder abuse officers who will investigate further.
Here are the main areas where elder abuse can occur:
Unfortunately, a person is experiencing elder abuse if they have little control over their finances. Someone else might be making their financial decisions when they are perfectly capable of making them themselves. Maybe money is being spent without their knowledge. It might seem that their standard of living is out of sync with their assets or income. A sign might be if they are not paying their bills. Another is just not spending money on themselves in the way that they used to do.
Physical abuse is one that can be easy to spot, and can happen within the domestic sphere. If a person has bruising, scratches or a broken limb, action has to be taken to put a stop to it.
Older people can go from being very independent to requiring assistance with personal care. Whether it is with help getting dressed, washing, preparing meals or assistance shopping for clothes. Signs of neglect are if a person loses weight from not having sufficient food which can also lead to malnourishment. Older people often need aids such as dentures, glasses or hearing aids. If these are denied, then they are experiencing neglect. Wearing inappropriate for the weather or ill-fitting clothes can also be a sign. As can poor hygiene if the person isn’t getting necessary assistance to wash. Poor shaving, dirty fingernails or unwashed hair can be signs.
If a person is treated with disdain or contempt, if they are ignored or isolated, if they are humiliated or made to feel small (be it through verbal or non-verbal means), this can drastically diminish a person’s self-esteem. Of course, this can happen to people at any age. But over 65 is the threshold taken for elder abuse and the HSE can take action to help. If a person is feeling fearful, helpless or agitated, they may be experiencing psychological abuse.
Discrimination can happen in that an older person may not be treated well by other people in society. Examples of discrimination would be if an older person is treated like a child or is not allowed enter places because of their age. If provision is not made for older people. Other examples of discrimination occur when a person is tricked or pressurised to buy something that they don’t want. We often hear of salesmen using bully-boy tactics to persuade older people to have work done on their homes. However, it can happen with smaller amounts of money too.
It isn’t nice to think that older people might experience elder abuse, and thankfully, most of them do not. However, people can be reluctant to raise the topic hence the need for greater awareness. Elderly people reply on others to be their advocates, to speak up for them, to educate others, to be their protectors if necessary. Sometimes people avoid the subject by presuming a change in behaviour such as anxiety or disrupted sleep is due to a clinical reason but it is better to be safe than sorry. It might be something that is preventable. As we pointed out in our recent article about the need for respite care, caregivers can become stressed when caring for long periods of time and respite gives them a break to recharge their batteries, have some ‘me’ time and become focused again.
Marking the day
June 15th marks Elder Abuse Day and people are encourage to wear purple to mark the day and to increase awareness. If we are more aware that elder abuse can happen, even if we don’t like to think about it, then we can alert the relevant people to take action at an early stage. At Comfort Keepers, it is something that we are very mindful of looking out for it when caring for our clients.
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