Elder Abuse – How Do We Protect our Vulnerable Loved Ones?
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse, much like spousal or child abuse, occurs when there is a vulnerable person who is abused or mistreated by those who are in a position of power or trust. In the case of elder abuse the vulnerable person is a senior who may be abused in any number of ways; physically, or financially. The abuse can be inflicted by a spouse, child or other family member, by caregivers, service providers, or any other person in a position of trust.
The U.S. National Center on Elder Abuse defines 6 major types of Elder Abuse:
(1) Physical abuse: The use of physical force resulting in pain. Can include acts of violence, restraint or physical punishment;
(2) Sexual abuse: Non-consensual sex with an elderly person;
(3) Emotional or psychological abuse: Can be inflicted through intimidation, humiliation, isolation or other verbal and nonverbal acts;
(4) Neglect: The failure to provide the necessities of life. This frequently occurs in nursing homes when there is understaffing (cutting of costs);
(5) Abandonment: Desertion of an elderly person by the person responsible for their care; and
(6) Financial or material exploitation: Misusing or stealing an elder’s money or possessions or coercing them into giving up control of their assets.
The Government of Canada hosts an informative website regarding Elder Abuse.
In 2005 the government of Nova Scotia published the Nova Scotia Elder Abuse Strategy: Towards Awareness and Prevention.
The goal of the report was to “increase awareness, prevent abuse, and reduce the incidence of abuse in Nova Scotia.”
Has The Nova Scotia Strategy Worked?
In 2007 Nova Scotian’s were horrified to read media reports about two nurses at Glen Haven Manor who taped shut the mouth of one of their elderly residents. The nurses drew a smile on medical tape and used it to cover the mouth of an elderly woman. Both nurses were disciplined; one received a five-day suspension and the other a ten-day suspension. The woman’s relatives were informed of the incident and advised of their right to file a complaint.
While the elder in the New Glasgow mouth-taping incident was unharmed, the nurses punished, and it does not appear further actions were taken, it begs the question of whether there are more cases of elder abuse that go unreported or unidentified.
In 2009 Health department investigators conducted 73 investigations into alleged elder abuse in nursing homes across Nova Scotia. 30 of the incidents involved staff abusing residents.
The following year investigators found 20 incidents of elder abuse, 15 involving staff where elderly residents were hit, spit on and in one instance, had a moustache drawn on them with a pen.
Last year it was reported that a resident of a nursing home in Halifax had been a victim of sexual abuse by another resident. Family memebrs claimed that nursing home staff were aware of the sexual assaults but failed to stop it or report the assaults to police.
A superficial reading of the provincial statistics might suggest that the number of incidents of elder abuse in nursing homes is dropping. But is that a safe assumption?
Keep in mind the investigations only deal with reported allegations of abuse.
If the victim is vulnerable and too afraid to report what is happening to them investigators will not learn of the complaint.
Or as the sexual assault case in Halifax shows, if staff fail to report abuse, the claims cannot be investigated.
Doesn’t Cover Private Care
Furthermore the provincial investigations only involve allegations involving nursing homes and other senior care facilities. It does not deal with acts of abuse that may take place in private homes.
Do these incidents suggest a trend or pattern? Or are they isolated cases? What can we do to ensure our loved ones are not victims of elder abuse?
What Can You Do?
If you suspect elder abuse there are a number of steps you can take to remedy the situation.
First, you should get the elder away from the abusive environment. It would be a good idea to enlist the help of any supportive family members or the appropriate social services agency. In Nova Scotia the appropriate agency would be the Department of Seniors who operate a Senior Abuse Line at (866) 974-8281.
Next, once the senior is in a safe environment, you can consider further steps including filing a complaint, filing criminal charges, or starting legal action
Seniors Abuse Information Line ‑ Information on abuse and referrals.
Toll‑free: (866) 974-8281