What is Elder Abuse

During the pandemic, many of us have been feeling lonely or isolated. We miss seeing our family and friends in person. For some older adults though, the feelings of loneliness and isolation started long before the pandemic. 

 

grey photo of an older man wearing glasses

 

For some seniors, the pandemic restrictions have only exacerbated the social isolation they were already experiencing.  Social isolation is not only a concern for physical and mental health; it is also a risk for elder abuse.  Older adults who are socially isolated are at higher risk of elder abuse. 

 

What is Elder Abuse?

 

It is the mistreatment of an older adult by someone they should be able to depend upon and trust. 

 

Elder abuse can take many forms such as: financial, psychological, physical, sexual, or neglect.  It often occurs when there is an imbalance of power and an older adult’s rights are disregarded.  Intimidation, humiliation, or coercion can make an older adult feel powerless.

 

By definition, elder abuse is perpetrated by someone in a position of trust, oftentimes, a family member, close friend, or caregiver.  The sense of betrayal and hurt runs deep, and the situation becomes even more complex when the older adult depends on that person for all of their care or daily needs.

 

Elder Rights are Human Rights

 

Older adults deserve to:

  • be treated with respect and dignity
  • experience human rights and protections regardless of age, gender, racial or ethnic background, disability or other status, or socio-economic status.
  • make their own decisions and retain autonomy
  • have access to health care, social and legal service

As a community, we can band together and expect dignified treatment of all older adults. By promoting the human rights that older adults are entitled to, we can set the expectation that elder abuse is never acceptable.

 

quote “The term ‘innocent bystanders’ is an untruth. Those who do nothing when things are amiss, give permission for injustice to continue.” said by June Callwood

 

Elder Abuse Prevention

 

Elder abuse is everyone’s business. Elder abuse can happen to anyone; it is up to the community as a whole to help prevent abuse from occurring.  By fostering an inclusive and welcoming community, all older adults will feel safe and supported.

 

What Can YOU Do to Help?

  • Stay connected with older adults in your life!  Continue to check in even if visits are virtual.
  • Educate yourself on signs and risk factors associated with elder abuse.
  • Inform older adults of their rights; create a supportive environment where it is possible for seniors to make their own, informed decisions.
  • Feel free to ask “are you okay?” and truly wait for honest answers.  Initiate tough conversations.
  • If there are warning signs and you suspect abuse, report it.

Preventing elder abuse is a community responsibility.  You can be the person that makes a difference for the older adults in your life. Stay connected and promote the human rights to which all older adults are entitled!

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Standing up to Ageism

 

Just the other day, one of our caregivers had a question for us.  She wanted to know what she should do when she is out in public with a client, and the clerk or receptionist directs all their questions to the caregiver and not to the client.  She was particularly disturbed; the client she was serving that day needed physical assistance but is completely capable of making her own decisions.  The receptionist was asking questions about the gentleman’s health—no one would know the answers to those questions better than the man himself!

 

 

It is unfortunate that this question even needed to be raised.  Since when is it acceptable to speak about a person right in front of their face, without addressing them directly?  Doesn’t this break all social norms?  

 

What this client experienced and this caregiver witnessed is a case of ageism.  Sadly, it is all too common.  Ageism is assuming someone’s capabilities, preferences, tastes, etc. based solely on their perceived age.  It is a form of discrimination or stereotyping. 

 

 

It can happen to young people who might be told that only two young people are allowed to shop in the store at a time; more often though, ageism is experienced by those who are perceived to be elderly or infirm. Just because someone is using a walker doesn’t mean he can’t answer personal care questions; just because someone is in a wheelchair doesn’t mean she can’t make her own decisions.

 

How do we combat prevalent ageism? 

 

We start by ensuring that we always address the adult to whom we are speaking—not their son or daughter, their caregiver, their spouse.  We address the person directly, and speak to them in the same manner with which we’d speak to any other adult (ie: not using ‘elder speak’ which is akin to baby talk). 

 

 

What do we do in a case such as our caregiver presented? We, ourselves, might be respectful and addressing elders directly, but someone else in the general public isn’t offering the same respect.  How do we graciously handle that situation? 

 

My recommendation is to set a good example by redirecting the conversation to the appropriate person.  When asked a question that should have been directed to my client, I will respond with: “oh, I believe that question is for Mrs. Weber. Let’s ask her.”  It may seem small and simple, but at this moment, we can afford dignity to the elder who deserves it and hopefully set a positive example to someone who is inadvertently being ageist.

 

 

Next time you are out in public, and you notice someone speaking past a senior or ignoring a senior, please speak up and encourage the respect and dignity that the senior deserves. 
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