The abuse of elderly persons is a growing concern to the Brockville Police Service and police services throughout Ontario due to an increasing senior’s population and its reliance on caregivers to maintain levels of independence. Vulnerable populations are also a target for abuse due to an increasing trend encouraging independent community living. The elderly and the vulnerable are hesitant to report their victimization for a variety of reasons. With our community partners, the Brockville Police Service is working to encourage reporting of elder abuse and to ensure that all complaints of abuse are fully investigated in a timely manner.
The goals of the Service regarding the abuse of elderly or vulnerable persons are:
- to reduce the incidence of the abuse of the elderly and vulnerable persons in our community
- to investigate all occurrences thoroughly and to bring offenders to justice wherever possible
- to ensure the safety of victims through prompt action including referrals to other community partners
Why Don’t We Know About It
Abused seniors are often dependent on their abusers for constant care and may be socially isolated from other support systems. Abused seniors sometimes have diminished cognizance ability and they may have some physical disability which leaves them vulnerable to abuse. Most importantly, they are under the control or influence of the abuser and are unwilling to report the abuse to others.
Reasons Why Seniors Don’t Report Abuse
- Afraid and/or ashamed.
- Lack of awareness of signs of abuse.
- Lack of media attention.
- Afraid of receiving no help.
- Fear of retaliation or jeopardizing their levels of care.
In cases of abuse where a family member is involved, especially a child, it is a tremendous blow of embarrassment to the senior. This type of public exposure can be very painful to an elder’s self-esteem.
Forms of Elder Abuse
Neglect (Self or by others): Unkempt appearance, broken glasses, lack of appropriate clothing, lack of eyewear, hearing aid, dentures and other necessities, malnutrition, dehydration, poor personal hygiene, untreated sores, hazardous or unsafe living condition or arrangements (dirt, fleas, lice, soiled bedding, fecal/urine smell). An elderly person will report being neglected / mistreated.
Physical Abuse: Untreated or unexplainable injuries in various stages of healing, limb and skull fractures, bruises, sores, cuts, punctures, sprains, internal injuries/bleeding, dislocations, black eyes, welts and bondage marks (signs of being restrained).
Sexual Abuse and Exploitation: Venereal disease, genital infections, torn, stained, or bloody underclothing, vaginal or anal bleeding, bruising around the breasts or genital area. An elderly person will generally report having been sexually assaulted or raped.
Psychological and/or Emotional Abuse: Changes in behavior (emotional upset/agitation resulting in sucking, biting, rocking), withdrawn, non-responsive, usually attributed to dementia (e.g., sucking, biting, rocking).
Economic / Financial Abuse: Sudden changes in bank account or banking practice (unexplained withdrawals of large sums of money by a person accompanying the elderly person), coercing an elderly person into signing a document (i.e. contracts, wills), negotiating an elderly person’s cheques without authorization, stealing or misusing an elderly person’s money or possessions, forging an elderly person’s signature, misuse of power of attorney.
Institutional Abuse: In some cases, a facility’s policies may be inappropriate for meeting an elderly person’s needs. Some institutions may operate to meet a personal or financial goal that conflicts with meeting residents’ health and environmental needs.
- Overcrowded, substandard and/or unsanitary living environments;
- Inadequate care and nutrition;
- Aggressive / inappropriate staff–client relations;
- Use of chemical and physical restraints to exert control over the elderly.
Violation of Rights: Restricted liberty, rights to privacy, access to information, available community supports.
Spiritual Abuse: Restricted or loss of spiritual practices, customs, traditions.
Preventative Tips for Seniors
- Elderly people should participate in social activities as much as possible with friends instead of family members.
- Maintain independence for as long as possible.
- It is unwise to bequeath a house or other possessions to relatives on the strength of the relative’s promise “to look after you”.
- In some families, there may be a younger relative who cannot cope with the frustrations in his/her life. If the elderly parent agrees to let them share the home, it may lead to elder abuse. It would be better for the vulnerable elderly parent to avoid close daily contact with this troubled adult and refuse to share a home.
- Elderly persons should select a family physician who is trustworthy, concerned and prepared to get to know the senior. It is better to find one good physician than to use a number of different ones from time to time.
Elder abuse is not a new phenomenon. Increased training and proper education will give the potential ability to recognize the warning signs of senior abuse.