Elder abuse: How do we protect seniors?


Seniors can be vulnerable members of society, for a variety of reasons. Many are already struggling to balance changes in their physical and mental capabilities. Some struggle to keep up with their financial and legal affairs or to understand changes to how these affairs are handled (think online banking). Many have seen their social and family connections shrink over the years and suffer from feelings of loneliness and isolation.

When a senior is living alone, all of the above combine to create vulnerable situations. A lonely senior may easily give too much information to a stranger over the phone, or have a difficult time turning someone away at the door who appears friendly. They may be easily intimidated or overwhelmed by someone looking to take advantage. They may be cared for by family members who resent the workload and are ill suited to the role of caregiving. They may be too trusting of family members who try to alienate the rest of the family in hopes of influencing the senior financially. They may not have the capability to protect themselves from more serious physical abuse, nor the ability to report their abuser.

What qualifies as elder abuse?

Elder abuse can take many forms, some less obvious than others. Most people think of abuse as physical or sexual abuse, but emotional abuse and neglect can also take a serious toll. Many seniors also find themselves the target of exploitation regarding financial or legal matters, with pressures from strangers or those they trust most. It’s important to remember that like any other vulnerable members of our communities, abuse can come from anywhere, including within families. These all count as abuse and indicate that intervention is needed. If you observe signs that abuse might be occurring, it’s important to speak up or contact someone who might be able to help.

What are possible signs of elder abuse?

  • Physical injuries such as scars, marks, bruising
  • Emotional signs such as appearing withdrawn or reluctant to speak
  • Evidence of neglect such as poor hygiene, dirty clothing, home not maintained
  • Multiple prescriptions from more than one doctor or confusing details about care or treatment
  • Isolation that seems to be created or encouraged by a family member or caregiver
  • Financial transactions that seem out of place – receipts, withdrawal slips, transfers or payments
  • Sudden changes in health or behavior that are not being brought to the attention of a doctor

Why does elder abuse happen?

  • Financial or economic pressures
  • Lack of family support and connection
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of community resources
  • Alcohol or other substance abuse by the caregiver
  • Caregivers are poorly prepared to take on the responsibility or workload of caregiving
  • Lack of home care/respite care options to ease pressure on family caregivers

How can we reduce the risk?

Seniors who have strong social and family connections are less likely to suffer elder abuse. Strong social connections can keep seniors from feeling lonely and vulnerable to the wrong kind of connections. If you have aging loved ones in your family, it’s valuable to stay connected and informed, and stay in touch. When more people are involved and the communication levels are high, inappropriate situations or signs of abuse can be more easily detected. Be sure that caregivers are those who choose the role, are trained to perform all aspects of the role and can balance the care with the rest of their schedule and lives. This may mean hiring someone to come in and provide homecare or respite care to ensure seniors are getting the level of care and oversight that is needed. You can also help by opening conversations when you have concerns and being someone a senior can confide in if they are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.

What can we do if we suspect elder abuse?

Visit the Alberta Elder Abuse Awareness Council website to learn more about elder abuse, and how it affects the seniors in our communities. The website also has quick links to hide the page and hints to clear browser history to help protect those who need support and are looking for resources or assistance without putting themselves at further risk.As well, the Government of Alberta partnered with the Alberta Elder Abuse Awareness Network to produce the video “Learn the signs…break the silence” which also appears on the site, showing what elder abuse might look to friends, neighbors, or community members.

You can call 911 if you feel a senior is being abused and is in imminent danger of harm. You can call the non-emergency line for your local police, or contact community agencies such as the Family Violence Information line at 310-1818 for support as well. If the abuse is suspected in a care home or facility, it is required by law that you report it. Reach out to their family doctor. Don’t hesitate to ask for information and guidance on next steps when you suspect abuse – it could make all the difference to a vulnerable senior. We are all a part of the solution.

Have questions or feedback on what you just read? Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to chat with you.

Note:  Senior Homecare by Angels is committed to keep your aging parents safe while in our care. We conduct thorough background checks, police background, and vulnerable sector checks on all of our Angels, as well as performing thorough reference checks and credential validation. We’re pleased to answer any and all questions to reassure you of this commitment.

                                                                                                                ~  Senior Homecare by Angels Calgary team