According to Canada’s Department of Justice, seven per cent of seniors report some form of emotional or financial abuse. As our population ages, elder abuse has become a serious and growing concern.
Elder abuse exists in many forms, including physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse and neglect. The perpetrators are often family members, caregivers or friends. Constable Trevor Zwarich from the Winnipeg Police Service says some of the warning signs of abuse include a sudden change in behavior or appearance, such as deterioration in personal hygiene, untreated bedsores or a sudden onset of physical injuries or repeated ‘accidents’ causing injuries. There could also be a change in banking activities and legal documents, or a lack of money to pay for rent, utility bills or food.
The impact of elder abuse can be significant, leading to long-term physical and psychological problems like depression, stress, anxiety and even high blood pressure and panic attacks. Those who have experienced elder abuse often hold feelings of shame or self-blame.
Constable Zwarich says there are some preventative steps older adults can take to guard against elder abuse. He recommends staying sociable and remaining in contact with friends and neighbours who can check on you.
“Ask a friend to visit you weekly,” Zwarich suggests. “Even brief visits allow for observations of your well-being.” Share openly with friends and let them know if you change addresses or move in with a relative.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, there are many resources available, including A&O Support Services for Older Adults’ Safe Suite Program, which provides free, temporary housing for men and women over 55 who need a safe place to live after leaving an abusive situation. A&O also offers elder abuse counseling, which you can access by calling 204-956-6440 (toll free at 1-888-333-3121). The Government of Manitoba also funds a 24-hour Seniors Abuse Support Line toll free at 1-888-896-7193.