Media reports of home invasions and bag snatching can give the impression that older people are at greatest risk from strangers. The sad truth is that exploitation or abuse of older people is more likely to come from family and friends.
What is elder abuse?
In Western Australia, elder abuse is defined as: 'Any act which causes harm to an older person and occurs within an informal relationship of trust, such as family or friends.'
Abuse can take many forms and includes:
Financial or material–such as using an older person's money or property without their permission.
Emotional or psychological–such as verbal or physical threats, threats of abandonment and intimidation, threats to harm others or pets, withdrawal of love and support.
Social–such as restricting someone's social freedom and isolating her or him from family and friends.
Neglect–not providing life's necessities such as adequate food, shelter, care and emotional support.
Physical–any deliberate act resulting in physical pain or injury, including physical coercion and physical restraint.
Sexual–sexually abusive or exploitative behaviour, including sexual assault, such as making obscene phone calls, or watching obscene DVDs in the presence of an older person who does not want to see this.
Protecting yourself from elder abuse
Reduce the risks by:
- staying socially connected – join a club or group and stay in touch with friends
- enjoying and maintaining independence – continue to experience new activities, take up new challenges, meet new people
- staying physically healthy – exercise daily, eat a well-balanced diet, visit your GP and health care professionals regularly
- staying mentally active – start a course of study, join a book club
- staying emotionally healthy – ask for help if you are feeling down or anxious, talk to your GP.
Plan for your future security
Protecting older people from elder abuse
Recognising the signs
If you suspect or know an older person is being abused and do nothing, the harm continues.
Signs to watch for include:
- acting fearfully or withdrawing
- signs of stress, anxiety or depression
- bruising or other physical injuries
- an inability to pay normal bills or having unpaid bills
- marked weight loss
- changes in sleeping patterns.
Signs that someone might be abusing an older person include:
- seeing the person verbally or physically abuse the person
- a person speaking on behalf of someone without consent
- conflicting stories about injuries.
Don't accept abuse
No-one deserves to be abused, exploited or to live in fear.
There are many reasons why victims of elder abuse might feel unable to report or act to stop unacceptable behaviour, including:
believing it's their fault
feeling shame that their children are harming them
the possibility of having to rebuild their finances if they leave the abuser
their dependence on the abuser for income and social networks and fear of losing them
being estranged from their adult children and losing their family.
Respecting the rights of older people
Part of respecting the rights of older people is respecting their right to make their own decisions.
This means when older people have capacity to make their own choices, people who hold a position of trust in their lives should not:
make decisions for them
coerce or bully them into making decisions not in their own best interests
ignore their decisions.
It also means that if an older person loses the capacity to make an informed decision, others must make decisions in the older person's best interests (and not their own self interest). The Office of the Public Advocate can provide more information and advice to assist where older people have reduced decision making capacity.
If you, or someone you know is being mistreated, don't accept it. No matter what has happened in the past, it is not acceptable for children, a partner or others to harm an older person in any way.