Family dynamics are the invisible force behind every caregiving journey

Abuse of older adults: signs and symptoms

The Government of Canada defines “elder abuse”  as “any action by someone in a relationship of trust that results in harm or distress to an older person.”

Physical abuse is probably what we normally think of when we hear the term “elder abuse.” This type of abuse occurs when an older person is beaten, punched, kicked, scratched, pushed, has their hair pulled, or experiences any type of physical trauma that causes a physical injury, impairment, or even death. Restraining, confining, and forcing an older adult to inappropriately use drugs also counts as physical abuse.

Emotional or psychological abuse occurs when a person in a position of trust uses verbal or non-verbal tactics against an older adult in order to:

  • Intimidate through yelling or threats
  • Humiliate or ridicule
  • Ignore or neglect the person’s needs
  • Isolate the person from their circle of family and friends
  • Terrorize or menace

Emotional abuse can leave scars that are just as painful as ones caused by physical abuse. It can undermine a  person’s confidence and make them afraid of everyday situations and people, causing them to turn inwards as a result.

Older adults can also experience sexual abuse. This occurs when someone forces the older adult to engage in sexual acts without their consent. Examples of non-consensual sexual acts include:

  • Rape and molestation
  • Forcing the person to watch or take part in sexual acts
  • Forcing the person to view pornographic material
  • Forcing the person to undress for reasons other than to change clothes or bathe

Neglect can occur when caregivers (paid or unpaid) are:

  • Not aware of the needs of the person in their care
  • Unable to commit to their caregiving roles for various reasons
  • Overwhelmed with balancing their caregiving duties along with their personal lives and careers

According to the Government of Canada neglect can become abusive when a caregiver willfully or inadvertently fails to provide for an older person’s daily living needs such as:

  • Food and/or water
  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Medication and/or medical attention
  • Assistance with basic necessities, such as hygiene and socialization

Financial abuse of older adults is “the most common form of elder abuse in Canada”  Financial exploitation of an older adult involves unauthorized use of their funds, property, or their private information in order to steal from them or others.

You may be interested to learn more about various financial scams that seniors are vulnerable to and how to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud.

Injuries such as bruises, cuts, broken bones, sprains, burn marks, scratches, etc. especially if they repeatedly result in trips to the ERThe abuse of  older adults can be difficult to pinpoint and not everyone displays the same signs and symptoms. Be on the lookout for:

  • Fear or anxiety towards a caregiver, family member, or health care provider
  • Poor health, nutrition, and hygiene. Rashes, open wounds, or sores could indicate dirty or unsafe living conditions,  neglect, or an untreated illness
  • Large withdrawals from their bank account, changes to wills or power of attorney, new loans taken out in their name
  • Hoarding, depression, or social isolation

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or suffering from caregiver burnout there are steps to take.ways to get the help you need.

  • Ask your family and friends to help you take on some of the responsibilities on your plate, whether it’s at home, work, or with the  person you’re taking care of.
  • Look into respite care services to give you a break from caregiving, or an adult day program for the personin your care.
  • Make connections with other caregivers in your community  or even virtually to benefit from their experience and to share your own.
  • Take care of yourself by staying healthy, eating right, and getting plenty of rest.

If you suspect that an older adult is being abused, please seriously consider reaching out to one of the many provincial and territorial resources for help.

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