The World Health Organization defines Elder Abuse as a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person. According to the Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (“ONPEA”), the number of seniors over 65 in Ontario is expected to increase to almost 4.2 million by 2036, and tragically it is estimated that between 2% and 10% of older adults will experience some form of elder abuse each year.
There are generally considered to be five categories of elder abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, financial abuse, and neglect.
Physical abuse can include physical force or violence and may result in physical discomfort, pain, or injury. This can include inappropriate use of drugs or restraints. Sexual abuse involves any sexual behaviour directed toward an older adult without their consent, and also includes contact with older adults who are incapable of consenting. Psychological or emotional abuse includes verbal or non-verbal acts that lessen a person’s sense of dignity, identity, or self-worth. This can be manifested in multiple ways, such as isolation, hurtful comments or lack of acknowledgement. Financial abuse is the most common form, and ONPEA defines it as “any improper conduct, done with or without the informed consent of the senior that results in a monetary or personal gain to the abuser and/or monetary or personal loss for the older adult”.
A recent article in the Psychiatric Times discussed why so many cases of elder abuse go unreported. The author suggests that this could be due to shame or humiliation, or the victim may refuse to acknowledge the fallacy of the scam that took advantage of them. An individual who has been the victim of elder abuse may not conceive of themselves as a victim, resulting in a failure to report abuse, or in denial if questioned. Additionally, an older adult who was rendered particularly vulnerable due to incapacity may be unaware of abuse or unable to report it.
The article also states that many actions that constitute abuse are often not recognized as such by the abused party: “The label ‘abuse’ tends to connote adversarial and overtly hostile action, but of the ‘weapons’ of abusers, affection is especially effective because it serves to make the abused person complicit in the acts—he or she really wants to comply with the abuser.“
There are many concerns surrounding elder abuse and elder care. It is important to be aware of such concerns and to stay informed in order to bring more attention to issues affecting older adults.
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