Elder Abuse - What is It and How you Can Spot It

Abuse can happen to anyone, at any time. Age, gender, race or socio-economic status have no bearing when it comes to abuse.

We all have a role to play in the fight against abuse and domestic violence. Friends, family members and neighbours can all make a positive difference. They’re also the ones who are most likely the first to notice warning signs of abuse, which is why it’s so crucial that everyone is aware of these warning signs. We all have a shared responsibility to promote respect for all members in our society and help anyone we know who is being abused.

Elder abuse is more common than many people realize and can happen in a variety of ways. Abuse of older adults usually occurs within the family, by adult children or grandchildren. However, other people in a position of power or trust can also be the abuser: spouses, caregivers, financial advisors or landlords, for instance.

Elderly Hands

Also, there are some common risk factors of elder abuse that can contribute to the concern of abuse happening, including:

•  Isolation - physical, social or cultural

•  History of domestic violence

•  Dependency on an adult - for shelter or financial help

•  Shared living situations

•  Addiction issues

•  Cognitive impairment

•  Depression or other mental health issues

There are also different types of abuse, so it’s important to be aware of all of the ways that elder abuse can occur.

Financial Abuse - Occurs if somebody tricks, threatens, or persuades older adults out of their money, property or possessions. I.e. forcing or influencing the abused to change their will, sign a power of attorney, or cash cheques without their knowledge.

Psychological Abuse - When somebody threatens, insults, intimidates or humiliates an older adult, treats the person like a child, or does not allow them to see their family and friends.

Spiritual or Religious Abuse - When someone limits or restricts the spiritual practices, customs or traditions of an older adult. I.e. Attacking the person’s beliefs or not allowing the abused to participate in religious events and activities.

Sexual Abuse - Occurs if somebody forces an older adult to engage in sexual activity. This may include verbal or suggestive behaviour, not respecting personal privacy, and sexual intercourse.

Physical Abuse - When somebody hits an older adult or handles them roughly, even if there is no injury.

Neglect - When someone withholds care, food and/or emotional support that an older adult is unable to provide for himself or herself. Sometimes people providing care do not have the necessary knowledge, experience or ability.

While warning signs of elder abuse can vary depending on the type and severity of abuse, it’s so important to be aware of the most common warning signs. If you think someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, trust your instinct and find out how you can help them. There is never an excuse for abuse and we all have a role to play in helping end abuse.

Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

•  Older adults who tell you they’re being abuse or hurt - believe them!

•  Physical injuries, such as bruises, sprains, broken bones or scratches, especially when the explanation doesn’t fit the injury.

•  Changes in behaviour of the older adult, like depression, withdrawal or fear

•  Changes in living arrangements, such as previously uninvolved relatives or new friends moving in

•  Changes in regular social activities, like missing church or other social events

•  Changes in financial situations, such as cancellation of services (i.e. television, Internet, phone) because bills are not paid, or things “disappearing” from the home

•  Signs of neglect, like: no food left in the house, being left along for long periods of time, not having necessary glasses, aids or proper clothing

•  Controlling behaviour by family members or caregivers, not allowing older adults to freely make decisions and choices

•  Refusing to allow them to visit with anyone else

•  Isolating them from friends and family

•  Using the “silent treatment” to control them

•  Not letting them use the phone or reading or withholding their mail

•  Disregard for the privacy

•  Locks on the outside of the bedroom door

•  Handling all of their money

•  Blaming the older adult for the abuse i.e. “It’s your fault that I pushed you!”

•  Treating the older adult like a child

•  Leaving a dependent person alone for long periods of time

•  Frequent arguments, name calling or threats

Other posts and resources you might be interested in:

Starting the Conversation: Domestic Violence in Later Life

How You Can Identify Abuse and Help Older Adults at Risk

Elder Abuse