What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is any action or inaction by self or others that jeopardizes the health or well –being of an older adult. Elder abuse can take several forms including financial, emotional, physical, sexual, medication and neglect, with more than one type of abuse often occurring at the same time. Elder abuse can include the infliction of physical injury, restraint, financial exploitation, threats, ridicule, insult or humiliation, withholding medication, unwanted touching or sexual contact, forced isolation (physical or social), or forced change in living arrangements. It may also include neglect, which is defined as the refusal or failure to care for an older person, whether intentional or unintentional. This could include abandonment, withholding or not providing food, healthcare, companionship or assistance.
Who are the Victims?
Any senior can become a victim of elder abuse regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, income or education. Like other types of family violence, the dynamics of elder abuse are complex.
Who are the Abusers?
Elder abuse is often committed by someone known to the victim, such as a family member, friend, neighbour or caregiver. Abusers can also include any individual in a position of power, trust or authority.
What are the risk factors for abuse?
Elder abuse is often impacted by the mental and physical conditions of both the abuser and the victim, with these factors interacting in ways uniquely dependent on the individuals involved and the situation. Risk factors for abuse include: history of spousal or other family violence; family dynamics; isolation; troubled relatives, friends or neighbours; inability to cope with long-term caregiving; institutional conditions; ageism and lack of knowledge about the aging process; and society’s acceptance of violence.
What are the signs of elder abuse?
Signs which may indicate elder abuse include:
- Fear, anxiety, sudden depression, withdrawal or cowering
- A change in emotional state such as confusion, agitation or lack of mobility
- Caregiver always speaking on behalf of older person
- Unexplained injuries such as bruises, burns or bites
- Untreated medical problems or irregular medical appointments
- Inappropriate or dirty clothing
- Poor hygiene
- Standard of living not in keeping with income or assets
- Missing property
- Unusual or suspicious activity in bank accounts or financial documents
- Force or trickery used in the signing of wills or releasing of property
- Overdue bills
What do I do if I know someone who is being abused, or am a senior being abused myself?
If you or someone close to you is an older adult who has been victimized by a family member, spouse, partner, friend, caregiver or other person in a position of trust, please give LEARN a call. If you are calling on behalf of someone else, referrals can be made anonymously, provided enough information is included so that the individual can be reached (ie. full name, address and phone number). In all cases where an individual is in danger or a crime has been committed, it is always best to contact the Lethbridge Police Service, or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. If the individual resides in a publicly funded care facility, please contact the Protection for Persons in Care office at 1-888-357-9339.
Other things you can do include:
- If you are in immediate danger, leave the situation if possible and go to a safe place (eg. friend, family member, shelter).
- Keep a record of the things that are happening to you, paying attention to the details. This will be helpful if you decide to take further action.
- Take legal action. Remember, all forms of abuse are immoral, and some are illegal. You may want to think about a court protection order that would stop the abusive person from having contact with you.
What is LEARN?
The Lethbridge Elder Abuse Response Network (LEARN) is a collaboration of human services organizations that responds to and provides education, awareness and advocacy for those at risk of or already experiencing abuse, as well as the community at large. The network consists of a full-time Case Manager, a part time Coordinator, a Steering Committee made up of representatives from Alberta Health Services, Lethbridge Police Service, Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization, and the City of Lethbridge, as well as representatives from 29 human support service agencies.
What services does LEARN provide?
The LEARN Case Manager is responsible for responding to complaints or concerns of elder abuse, making contact with suspected victims, arranging a home or office visit, assessing risk and making a safety plan, assisting in determining needs and setting goals, providing emotional support, consulting with other professionals and referring to organizations and support, and following up with clients to ensure continued safety and connection to community. Case Management services are provided free of charge within the City of Lethbridge and County of Lethbridge.
The LEARN Coordinator is responsible for recruiting members to sit on the Network, arranging and conducting presentations and training related to elder abuse and financial safety for seniors, as well as other public relations activities.
What can be done to prevent elder abuse?
There are ways an older adult can help reduce his/her risk of being a target of elder abuse. These include:
- Stay connected to positive friends, community groups and family members. People are more vulnerable when they are isolated.
- Make lifestyle choices that help you to stay healthier, fitter and more independent longer.
- Choose carefully who will assist you with decisions or assets before you are no longer able.
- Know your rights. You have the right to make choices, to receive fair treatment, to keep assets, to have appropriate shelter, food, clothing, medical care and community ties, to be safe and to live without fear.
- Find out about resources before you need them – we have many supports in Lethbridge for older adults.
- Get legal and professional advice prior to entering into agreements or signing documents. Professionals can help ensure the documents are legal, and they talk with you about the benefits and pitfalls.
- Have a caregiver plan – caregivers who have support and who reach out for help are less likely to abuse.
- Tell people you trust, when you are feeling uncomfortable about how you are being treated, and ask them to help you get help.
For information or to make a report, contact:
LEARN Case Manager, Joanne Blinco
Located on the second floor of the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization
500 -11th Street South
Hours: Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
For education and awareness presentations/training, please contact:
Lavonn Mutch, LEARN Coordinator
Phone: 403-320-2222 ext. 57