Elder Abuse: It’s Not Right via the Forest Standard

24 July, 2014 | The Forest Standard Newspaper (no online version currently available) | By Eric Nixon

The key message about Elder Abuse during a recent presentation delivered by Tracy Rogers of the Sarnia Lambton Coordinating Committee on Violence Against Women was, “It’s Not Right!” Rogers provided a wide range of information to a crowd at the Port Franks Community Centre during the 8th Annual Community Information Evening on Wednesday, July 9th.

She told the audience it’s important to listen to what people are saying in order to recognize the signs of Elder Abuse and, in turn, be able to act on them. The message was directed at neighbours, friends and families to help them identify abuse and assist older adults at risk.

“We have a shared responsibility to promote respect for all members of our society. Everyone has a role to play,” indicated Rogers, who presented information developed through the Western Education Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children.

The audience learned that ageism is part of the abuse, because it’s a form of discrimination against older adults. “It happens when older adults are treated as if they were less important or less valued because they are older. These attitudes are a factor in abusive situations because they allow people to believe they have the right to ignore, harm or control an older adult,” Rogers said.

Abuse can happen whenever someone limits or controls the rights and freedoms of an older adult. This means victims are unable to make their own choices because they’re afraid of being humiliated, hurt, left alone, or being shut out of a relationship. Abuse can take many forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual or neglect.

People should watch for and be able to recognize a variety of warning signs – and these should all be taken seriously and not ignored. Some of the most prevalent include a disclosure by a potential victim, injuries (especially when the explanation doesn’t fit the injury) and changes in behaviour, social activity, living arrangements and financial situations.

You should also watch for signs of neglect, such as people not having food in their home, being left alone for long periods of time, not have glasses or hearing aids when they’re needed, and not having proper clothing.

Another part of Rogers’ message involved getting people to look at their own behaviour, to see if they might be abusive themselves. These include controlling people, such as isolating an older adult from friends and family. It might also involve blaming an older adult for the abuse, saying something like, “It’s your fault that I pushed you.”

Another example is a strong sense of entitlement, signified by messages such as, “I can do whatever I want” or “You owe me.”

Treating the older adult like a child could also be a sign of abuse, as well as frequent arguments, name-calling or threats. Neglect is also a possible sign.

Potential abusers need to look in the mirror and spot warning signs themselves. Abuse can be recognized if an older adult is afraid of you, if the person is capable but you are making all the decisions, if you take their money or possessions and feel entitled to them, or if your need to ‘solve’ a situation allows you to ignore the other person’s feelings.

Rogers told the audience victims shouldn’t be afraid to get help. Instead, you can talk to someone you trust and help to change the situation.

As part of the program advocated by Rogers, neighbours, friends and family members are encouraged to do three things: See it, name it, and check it.

The first involves seeing that “It’s not right” by recognizing the signs of abuse. The second part, “Name it” means talking to a person and telling him or her, “I’m worried about you.” Finally, “Check it” involves asking, “What can I do to help?” by questioning a person, checking with professionals and looking for danger signs.

There are numerous ways to accomplish this:

  • Be patient. Listen carefully. Don’t judge or jump to conclusions.
  • Encourage people to be their own advocates. People of any age are much more likely to take action if they make their own plan.
  • Ask what you can do; respect their decisions even when you don’t agree.
  • Don’t confront or accuse the abusive person, who may take it out on the older adult after you leave.
  • Learn about safety planning.
  • Find out what local services are available in your area.

If a person is not open to your support, Rogers told the audience there are still things you can do, including keeping the lines of communication open, giving the person information and showing compassion. “If you have immediate concerns about safety, call the police,” she advised.

For those who believe themselves that they might be victims of abuse, Rogers said they should reach out for support. It’s important not to remain silent, just because you’re afraid, embarrassed, blame yourself or don’t want to cause the abuser any hardship.

Rogers also reminded people they’re not alone. It’s important to recognize three things:

  • There is nothing you have done that causes the abuse. The person who is mistreating you is always responsible for their actions.
  • People who are abusive need help. Abuse rarely goes away by itself and it usually becomes worse over time.
  • If your child or grandchild is abusive, they need help. They will never find peace in life without first taking responsibility for their actions.

Rogers told the audience that a wealth of information is available through the itsnotright.ca website. People can also visit the Government of Canada’s site at seniors.gc.ca and search for “Elder Abuse” or call 1-800-622-6232.