Elder Abuse

This article was published in The West End Times June 25, 2011.

Providing Home Care for the past 15 years has allowed us to share wonderful experiences with families who have chosen to stay home with some support. Everyday we hear stories about how well people are doing well into their eighties and nineties. And then there is the scary part…….June is senior’s month and I wanted to see what is happening in Canada for seniors. I came across the Government of Canada site marking Elder Abuse Awareness day. On June 15, our Government joined countries around the world to speak out against “elder abuse”.

Taking on many forms such as financial exploitation, psychological and physical abuse and neglect, it happens far too often says the Honourable Alice Wong, Minister of State (Seniors).

As Canada’s population ages, the number of citizens over 65 years of age will outnumber the number of citizens under the age of 15 by 2015. This shift in demographics means that an increasing number of people will be put into the position of caregiver for their parents even as they may be caring for their own family. Juggling these responsibilities may result in a great deal of stress. We need to think about how these changes will contribute to the problem of elder abuse.

Trend data show that between 1998 and 2005, the overall rate of police-reported violence against seniors increased 20%.

According to police-reported data, senior males are more likely than senior females to be victims of violent crime. In 2005, senior men experienced rates of violent crime that were 1.5 times higher than for senior women (172 versus 114 per 100,000).

And then there is Financial abuse which is the misuse of an older adult’s money or belongings by a relative or a person in a position of trust by: forcing or tricking an older adult into selling his or her house, stealing money or personal belongings, forging a signature on pension cheques or legal papers such as a will, misusing a power of attorney, not allowing an older person to buy needed clothes or equipment, forcing an older adult to do something, such as babysit or share his or her house without paying for it.

It is not known how common this type of abuse is because it is not always reported for many reasons such as older adults may not know what to do when it happens, older adults do not report abuse because they feel shame, guilt or fear, and there are few studies on financial abuse. Financial Abuse can happen to any older adult. Here are some signs that financial abuse might be happening. More information is needed to be sure that it is actually abuse.

• Large sums of money are taken from a bank account.
• Signatures on cheques or other papers look suspicious.
• The older person is in debt and does not know why.
• Bank statements are no longer being sent to the older person’s home.
• The older person cannot buy food or personal care items, or pay bills.
• The older person’s will is unexpectedly changed.
• The older person’s home is unexpectedly sold.

Personal belongings, such as clothes or jewellery, are missing from an older person’s home or room in an institution.
Many of us have heard horror stories about a friend or relative or something in the news about “right in your own backyard.” The part of the home care business that can keep me awake at night is that we are in older peoples’ homes and most can be vulnerable. Follow-up and feedback are so important to us. I have recently been approached by a technical company since many have caught on that I have been testing and using technology in the homes for several years now. This technology involves cameras in the home. On one level this sounds like “Big Brother Watching You” but after further discussions, the camera can be placed in different places and turned on and off as desired. Some family members agree that placed at the door to identify visitors could be helpful. Others thought that their parents would agree to provide access to the system if it was placed in the kitchen, as it could allow a regular visit where parents could be seen by their children.

I am beginning to see the possibilities for this type of technology in the homes. What do you think? Your comments and thoughts are really helpful. Should we go this route?