May 29, 2010

Elder Abuse: What We Can Do To Help

Wear purple on June 15th

June 15, 2010 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Besides being a special day to host events and raise awareness, it also offers an opportunity to open a frank discussion about elder abuse.

Abuse is never an easy topic to discuss. The irony of abuse is that, without discussion and heightened awareness, those who are abused cannot get the help they need, or those around them know how to provide support.

"Canada has been recognized as a leader in raising awareness about elder abuse. Many community organizations in Winnipeg have been holding events for the past five years and it gets bigger each year," says Kathy Henderson, Support Services to Seniors Facilitator in Family Medicine Primary Health Care for the Winnipeg Health Region.

Most people associate abuse with bruises and broken bones - and violence is one part of abuse, but it's not the entire picture. Other forms of abuse include emotional, verbal, sexual, financial and neglect.

"We don't really talk about it, but neglect - intentional or not - can be a form of abuse," says Henderson when discussing the scope of abuse to establish a context.

"Some examples would be withholding care or medical attention, leaving someone in an unsafe place or not giving them their proper medications."

She notes financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse. Many older adults can become victims of financial abuse from many sources including family members, friends or even neighbours. Pressure to give money, goods or property or using money without permission, are a few examples older adults face daily.

In Canada, between four and 10 per cent of seniors report being abused. It is estimated that in Manitoba between 6,000 and 15,000 seniors are victims of elder abuse each year. But statistics do not reveal the entire picture. Often abuse of older adults is hidden and in many situations, abuse goes unreported. Older adults suffer in silence with fear of retaliation, abandonment, shame or rejection. This keeps them isolated and separate from resources that could help them.

"All populations - it's no different for older adults - have basic requirements of life: food, shelter, clothing and freedom from all types of abuse. They have civil and legal rights that should not be infringed on," says Madeline Kohut, Community Development and Seniors Specialist with the Winnipeg Health Region.

It's important people know about the signs and the resources that are available.

"If we as service providers can't talk about abuse towards older adults, what makes us think we can talk about it in the community? On June 15th, we're challenging all Winnipeg Health Region employees and stakeholders to wear purple to raise awareness about abuse towards older adults," says Henderson, noting purple is the designated colour for elder abuse. "There are services out there to assist families, service providers and older adults."

Resources to Help

"Sometimes it's hard because people can refuse help. So what do you do if they refuse help? Try to provide them with information, encourage them to reduce harms that occur in a relationship and develop a safety plan that involves key people to call in an emergency and alternate accommodations," says Kohut. "The key is having contact and maintaining a trusting relationship, trying to empower them, rather than make them feel like you're rescuing them."

The Winnipeg Elder Abuse Working Group (which has representatives from the region) created an Elder Abuse Guide. This helpful resource provides a comprehensive look at elder abuse, available resources and actions to take if you suspect abuse. They also assisted in creating a DVD and facilitator's guide entitled, 'It's Everybody's Business' that is available for interested community members, organizations and stakeholders to begin talking about abuse towards older adults. After all it is everybody's business to become more aware of the impact, issues and resources available.

Age and Opportunity is a leader in providing services surrounding elder abuse, including a safe suite and counselling programs and services.

Manitoba Network for the Prevention of Abuse Towards Older Adults

Province of Manitoba Seniors and Healthy Aging Provincial Strategy on Elder Abuse

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