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Recognizing and Responding to Elder Abuse

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# Saturday, 09 May 2009
Saturday, 09 May 2009 17:17:44 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) ( General Life )
As the Canadian population ages, awareness needs to be raised surrounding the issue of elder abuse. It is estimated that between 4 and 10% of seniors in Canada experience or will experience some form of abuse. A study conducted by the Environics for Human Resources and Social Development Canada showed some alarming statistics. Among these were included that:

•    96% of all Canadians think most abuse directed towards the elderly is either hidden or goes undetected;
•    22% of all Canadians thought that they knew a senior who was experiencing some form of abuse;
•    9 in 10 Canadians thought that elder abuse awareness should be a high priority for the Canadian government in order to help seniors live safely and protect their rights;
•    67% of all Canadians felt that women were more susceptible to abuse as a senior than older men;
•    12% of Canadians have sought information regarding a situation of elder abuse either for a specific incident or for general knowledge;
•    1 in 20 Canadians have searched the internet for information regarding issues around elder abuse.

The Government of Canada has announced their support for 16 projects across Canada under the New Horizons for Seniors Program to raise awareness around this issue. Four million dollars will be invested in Canada-wide programs to bring attention to elder abuse as well as to provide education and resources for those at risk. Some of the planned projects are:

•    The National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly plans to undertake a national project that will produce and distribute materials intended for elder abuse prevention and detection as well as intervention tools and resources for seniors, families, communities and service providers.
•    The Community Legal Information Association of Prince Edward Island plans to develop and distribute legal information and resources for seniors and their families/caregivers as well as service providers.
•    The British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres will develop awareness and educational materials and resources that are specifically targeted towards the Aboriginal communities to help reduce elder abuse within their population.

Elder abuse (or older adult abuse) is defined as any single or repeated acts, or lack of appropriate action that occurs in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm and/or distress to an older person. Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse, which includes frauds and scams, as well as the improper use of Power of Attorney. Neglect is the second most common form of elder abuse. Neglect occurs when the person who has custody or care for a dependent adult fails to meet the basic needs for that person. Signs that a senior may be suffering from neglect include:

•    Malnourishment, dehydration, emaciation;
•    Mentally confused;
•    Not dressed appropriately, unkempt appearance, soiled surroundings;
•    Medications not administered properly;
•    Unexplained open sores;
•    Lack of safety features in the home;
•    Being left unsupervised and/or without assistance when it’s required;
•    Not keeping scheduled doctors appointments and/or other obligations on a regular basis.

Signs that a senior may be being abused financially are:

•    Large amounts of money being taken from a bank account;
•    Suspicious signatures on cheques and/or other legal documents;
•    Unexplained debt;
•    Financial statements suddenly not being mailed to the senior's residence;
•    The senior suddenly unable to pay bills and other daily household expenses;
•    An unexpected change in a will;
•    Unexpected sale of the home;
•    Missing personal belongings, i.e. jewelry, clothing;
•    The senior being asked to sign legal papers without an explanation as to what they are signing;
•    Not remembering making financial payments, transfers;
•    Someone speaking for the senior and not allowing them to speak and/or answer questions;
•    Sudden isolation from family and/or friends;
•    Anxiety when discussing financial matters.

It is important to also be aware of any unexplained physical injuries, such as bruises, swelling, welts, lacerations, fractures, etc. While seniors can experience an increased number of falls, injuries that are consistent with being restrained will be very different, i.e. rope burns, grip marks. Emotional changes such as sudden low self esteem, agitation, sleep difficulties and unexplained fearfulness can be indications that the senior is experiencing psychological abuse.

If you suspect that a senior you know may be experiencing some form of abuse, contact a senior service in your province/territory. Seniors Canada is run by the Government of Canada and offers seniors information on a wide variety of topics. This includes finances, care facilities, health and wellness issues as well as legal matters. They also provide information for the caregivers of seniors.

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