Protecting our seniors

Elder abuse is one of the most horrendous crimes plaguing society today.

The thought that many seniors are abused in a number of ways – physically, financially, psychologically, emotionally – and that few of these situations are ever reported, is heartbreaking.

Seniors deserve our care and respect. They’ve worked hard through their lives and it’s unimaginable that some of them are forced to endure their final years in fear. They are often facing so many challenges as it is – illness, increasing frailty, isolation, not to mention the deaths of long-time close friends. It’s a vulnerable season of life, and a time when they should feel safe, valued and protected.

According to the Alberta Government, elder abuse is often committed by someone known to the victim, such as a family member, friend, or caregiver. Approximately 25% of crimes against older adults are committed by family members, usually a spouse or adult child.

June 15th was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Organizations from around the world, including governments, community agencies, educational institutions and professionals in the field of aging hold events to raise awareness of elder abuse.

Any senior can become a victim of elder abuse regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, income or education. There is limited data about elder abuse in Canada, and throughout the world. A key reason is that many cases go unreported. However, various studies indicate that between 4–8% of older adults in Canada are likely to experience abuse.

Shame or guilt may stop a senior from revealing their abuse.

Sometimes victims simply do not have the capacity to report it. Whether a victim is unable or unwilling, some of the barriers to revealing abuse include fear; love for the abuser; lack of understanding or impairment; unaware of resource options or acceptance of abuse or neglect as normal behaviour.

Risk factors for abuse include history of spousal abuse, family dynamics, isolation, troubled relatives, friends or neighbours, inability to cope with long-term caregiving, institutional conditions, ageism and lack of knowledge about the aging process and society’s acceptance of violence and health and mobility issues.

Common signs include confusion, depression or anxiety, unexplained injuries, changes in hygiene, seeming fearful around certain people, and fear or worry when talking about money.

Alberta’s population, like the rest of Canada’s, is aging.

As of March 2011, there were about 410,000 seniors in Alberta but by 2031, when the last of the baby boomers reach 65 years of age, it is projected that there will be more than 923,000 seniors – meaning about one in five Albertans will be a senior.

The Alberta Elder Abuse Awareness Network web site facilitates the sharing of knowledge, resources and tools about elder abuse amongst people who work with seniors in Alberta. Visit www.albertaelderabuse.ca.

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