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What is elder abuse?
World Health Organisation defines elder abuse as: ‘a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person’.
In Australia, only 1 in 5 cases of elder abuse are reported. Most abuse of older people in by family members or relatives.
Elder abuse often has similar signs as domestic violence because it is both mental and physical violence against an older person and often takes place behind closed doors by a relative or other loved one. People may have bruises and other unexplained injuries or wounds, which may mean they are experiencing physical or sexual abuse.
Elder abuse comes in many forms:
- Physical abuse
- Psychological abuse
- Financial abuse
- Sexual abuse
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How to spot elder abuse?
Elder abuse may be occurring if you notice changes in patterns of behaviours of your loved one. Listen to what they are saying and take it seriously and try not to discount what you are being told.
It is often difficult for an older person to recognise they are experiencing elder abuse and so it is up to us to look out for our older people.
Outside friends, family or medical professionals may be able to pick up on subtle queues from their loved ones who are experiencing elder abuse.
For example, an older friend who may struggle to buy a newspaper they always used to buy. This may indicate that they’re having financial problems or someone has taken control of their finances.
Bruises and other unexplained injuries may indicate an older person is being physically or sexually abused.
This is the most common type of elder abuse in Australia.
You can usually spot financial abuse if high-value items and belongings go missing or there are issues with paying regular bills.
Since the house is the most expensive possession most people own, if an elderly person suddenly decides to sell, or family members move in, this could be a result of outside pressure.
If an elderly person avoids medical appointments or buying essential items, this may be a sign that they’re having trouble affording necessary food and health care and could highlight that something is wrong.
Another example may be where an older person has gifted someone an expensive gift and still can’t afford to pay for essential items. If the older person gets defensive or won’t discuss the gift, it can be because they were pressured by the abuser.
If there are unexpected changes to banking practices and financial documents like Wills, Powers of Attorney or Enduring Guardians, this may be a sign of pressure from an abuser to give the abuser more control over an older person’s finances and assets.
Physical abuse may appear through:
- Unexplained injuries or bruising, which the older person may explain away but you think the explanation is inconsistent with the injuries
- Soreness or restricted movement or infections
- Changes in an older person’s appearance such as poor health or dramatic weight changes
- Behavioural changes such as detachment, sadness, fear and anxiety
- An older person not being treated with dignity and respect by a loved one, friend or care (this might mean that it’s worse behind closed doors).
Sexual abuse might appear through:
- An older person exhibiting fear and anxiety when close to their abuser
- Torn or bloody unclothing or bedding
- Internal injuries or sexually transmitted disease or incontinence
- A carer or loved one who won’t allow you to visit an older person by themselves.
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An older person who is deprived of basic essentials or not able to see loved ones and friends, could be experiencing neglect or social abuse.
Neglect may be evidenced by:
- An older person being denied appropriate shelter, food, medical support or general personal care
- If an older person is hungry, thirsty or lost weight, they may not have access to human necessities
- Wearing wrong clothing for the weather conditions or if they appear dirty or unkempt may indicate that they may not be receiving proper personal hygiene care they require
- If a person’s health has become worse, it may indicate mismanagement of medication or lacking services
- Hypothermia, dehydration and pressure sores
- Behaviour which becomes withdrawn, listless or if an older person starts showing signs of depression or loneliness.
Social abuse occurs when someone tries to alienate an individual by restricting their contact with friends, family and the community. Social abuse is usually a way to enact other types of elder abuse. Social abuse includes:
- Preventing an older person from receiving mail or making phone calls
- Not allowing an older person to attend events
- Not allowing an older person to leave the home.
Emotional or psychological abuse
This type of abuse often comes from pressuring, bullying, name-calling or threatening to harm a person, someone they love or their pet.
Emotional abuse can result in your loved one becoming fearful, depressed, sad, lonely and feeling helpless. If an older person is belittled by an abuser over a period of time, it can also lead to low self-esteem.
Emotional abuse often causes behaviour that are similar to dementia like rocking, sucking or mumbling.
What to do if you notice elder abuse?
If you witness elder abuse, report it to the police and the aged care facility (if the older person resides in one). Keep reporting incidents if you see them as the more reports the police have, the larger their file of evidence.
If you can, take notes and photos of the abuse.
If you are talking to an older person about the abuse, reassure them and say that this is not normal and something can be done. If they live in an aged care facility, they can limit visitor’s access to the resident or take action against a staff member.
For safety reasons, it’s usually best not to approach the abuser directly – make a report to the police and/or aged care facility. Talk to your loved one and see if you can remove them from the perpetrator’s care and find a more appropriate service.
Talk to your loved one’s doctor and other health professionals if you can.
This type of behaviour is unacceptable and must be called out so it can be stamped out. It is up to all of us to stamp out elder abuse and to work together to do so.
Elder abuse comes in many forms:
If you or someone you know is a victim of Elder Abuse, please contact one of the below agencies:
Older Person’s Advocacy Network (OPAN) Ph: 1800 700 600
NSW Elder Abuse Helpline Ph: 1800 628 221
Elder Abuse Hotline Ph: 1800 ELDERhelp or 1800 353 374.
Serious physical or sexual abuse Call the police on 000.
How can we help?
If you suspect elder abuse, please report to the police and/or aged care facility, then call us.
Can you answer ‘yes’ to all of the following questions? If not, you may be suffering elder abuse.
- I am treated with respect by family and friends.
- I know how my money is being spent.
- I choose what happens in my home.
- Decisions about my life are in my best interest
- My Will reflects my own wishes
- I know where my medication is.
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, please call us on 0425 736 057. Dr Vania Holt is pleased to offer in-home visits – either your home or your aged care residence.