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North York • Since 1996
Charitable Registration Number: 88909 2565 RR0001
811 6021 Yonge Street
Toronto · ON · M2M 3W2
Telephone: 416-733-7691

STOP ABUSE AND NEGLECT OF ELDERLY (SANE)

WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE?

Any harmful action to an elderly person by someone in a position of trust can be considered elder abuse. Such abuse can be physical, financial, psychological, sexual, or simply neglect. It can happen in the home, in the community, in hospitals, or in long-term care institutions.

WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?

All older persons who are dependent on other people for their health or welfare are potential victims of elder abuse. Both men and women are equally at risk, without any economic, cultural or social boundaries, although elders with mental or physical limitations are at a higher risk. It is estimated that about 10 percent of the elderly have suffered from some type of abuse, although some psychiatrists put that figure between 10 and 20 percent.

WHO ARE THE ABUSERS?

Abusers have many faces. They can be spouses, children, other family members and relatives; they can be landlords, or caregivers at home, in hospitals, or in long-term care institutions. Any caregiver who is under emotional or financial stress, or who has a history of violence, or is suffering from alcohol or drug abuse, or from burnout, is at high risk of being or becoming an abuser. Often overworked and underpaid caregivers in hospitals or long-term care institutions can become abusers when dealing with difficult or aggressive or uncooperative patients and residents.

THE TYPES OF ELDER ABUSE

Physical abuse is probably the most obvious, because it is the easiest to recognize. This includes pushing, slapping or direct beatings, unreasonable or forced physical restraint in a bed or chair, confinement in a small, locked space, deprivation of food or liquids, over medication for better control. In many cases, physical elder abuse is simply a continuation of ongoing domestic violence or spousal abuse - a pattern that may only worsen when elders become more 'bothersome' in the eyes of their family.

Psychological or emotional abuse is more subtle. It involves verbal or non-verbal infliction of pain, harassment, put-downs, humiliation, insults, even threats. Threats can involve the withholding of care, or money, or social contacts, whichever will hurt the elder the most. This type of abuse can be perpetrated by both family members and institutional caregivers.

Financial abuse or material exploitation occurs when family members cash an elder's cheque without authorization, or misuse their Power of Attorney for their own personal gain; when they withhold or steal an elder's money or possessions; when they force an elder to sell personal property or other assets. Another area of financial abuse includes unscrupulous fraud and scam artists, telemarketers and often sophisticated-sounding financial advisors - all strangers out to steal from the savings of gullible and lonely seniors.

Sexual abuse includes sexual molestation of any kind, including rape, and any unwanted or unnecessary touching of a sexual nature. The abusers can be family, friends, caregivers, even professionals.

Neglect can be the result of other types of elder abuse. Lack of respect for an elder can be at the root of physical, emotional, psychological, financial and sexual abuse, and can lead to neglect of that elder. Failure to provide adequate care regarding food, clothing, reasonable shelter, medical attention, or protection from various hazards - all constitute neglect. Abandonment, or failure to provide any care at all, is the ultimate form of neglect.

Self-neglect occurs when isolated elders lose their sense of self-worth and refuse to look after themselves or be helped, thereby threatening their own health and safety.

SIGNS OF ELDER ABUSE TO LOOK FOR

Unexplained injuries, cuts, bruises, burns, bites, discoloration, broken bones - all could be the result of physical abuse. These victims are often living with a spouse or a child.

Loss of valuables or personal belongings, unusual withdrawals from the elder's bank accounts, change of will, lack of money for necessities, changes to Power of Attorney, unpaid bills or rent - can be signs of financial abuse. These victims are often widowed and living alone.

Fear, helplessness, depression, anger, hesitation to speak up, withdrawal - can be signs of psychological or emotional abuse. These victims often live with a spouse or a child. Exaggerated display of affection or inappropriate touching or fondling could be a sign of sexual abuse. These abusers could be family members, friends, caregivers or visitors.

Untreated medical conditions, inadequate or dirty clothing, malnutrition or dehydration, lack of hygiene can be signs of neglect. This can happen at home, in the community, in the hospital, or in long-term care institutions. Inability or unwillingness to behave responsibly where personal hygiene or health or safety or money matters are concerned - all could be signs of self-neglect. These seniors usually live alone

WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT ELDER ABUSE?

With a rapidly growing older population, the first and most important step is to raise public awareness regarding elder abuse. The public must learn about the extent of the problem, and become familiar with the different types of abuse.

Victims have to learn what elder abuse is, what their rights are and realize that they can report unacceptable treatment. They should tell as many people as possible about what's going on, such as their family doctor or spiritual advisor, fellow seniors or, in hospitals and long-term care places, the supervisor or director.

Abusers must learn to realize that what they are doing is wrong, possibly even criminal. Certain types of abuse can be reported to the police who will investigate and may lay charges. The police have a community relations officer who deals specifically with elder abuse.

Staff in hospitals and long-term care facilities should be educated to recognize elder abuse in order to prevent it, or to rectify the problem where possible.