Would it surprise you to discover that approximately four percent, or 60,000, of the 1.5 million older persons living in Ontario experience some form of elder abuse (Ontario Human Rights Commission). The abuse of older adults is defined as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person” (World Health Organization). While abuse can take many forms, including physical, sexual, emotional and neglect, the most common form of abuse is financial abuse. It is important to realize that financial abuse does not only mean theft, frauds and scams but also includes the improper use of the Continuing Power of Attorney for Property. It is disturbing to think, isn’t it, that family members, relatives, or friends, can misuse their financial power of attorney to steal money from an older adult.
It is important for each of us to understand elder abuse and neglect, recognize the signs and know how to prevent it from continuing or ever starting in the first place. Victims of elder abuse may show signs of:
- Depression, fear, anxiety, passivity
- Social withdrawal
- Unexplained physical injury
- Lack of food, clothing and other necessities
- Changes in hygiene and nutrition (e.g. signs of malnutrition)
- Failure to meet financial obligations
- Unusual banking withdrawals
So what can you do if you suspect an older adult you know is being abused? If the situation is an emergency and you believe that the person for whom you are concerned is at risk, call “911” immediately. When you suspect an older adult is being abused but is not at risk of imminent harm, you should speak to that person. If your suspicions are confirmed, you can then provide them with information regarding their rights or individuals/agencies who can assist them. If they are not ready to address the situation, offer your personal support until they are ready to take action.
One really important number to remember if you or someone you know is being mistreated, bullied or neglected is 1-866-299-1011 — the province wide hotline to assist abused and at-risk older adults.
For more information on how to identify elder abuse and what you can do please see:
Hamilton has a Committee Against Abuse of Older Persons (CAAOP), part of the Hamilton Council of Aging. CAAOP is interested in advocacy, education and linking individuals to services that assist older adults at risk of being abused. Our mandate is to strengthen the community’s ability to prevent, recognize and respond to the abuse of older persons. For more information please go to http://coahamilton.ca/resources/prevention-of-elder-abuse/
Please remember the abuse of older adults is never right, acceptable or excusable.
Glenys Currie is a member of the Board of Directors of the Hamilton Council on Aging, and Chair of CAAOP.