Senior adults who suffer violence, sexual assault, neglect, financial fraud and other forms of mistreatment — often at the hands of family members or paid caregivers — are victims of elder abuse.
No official crime called “elder abuse” exists. However, the many types of exploitation that elder abuse encompasses often are criminal acts that can carry serious penalties under Canadian and provincial laws.
Many factors can play a role in whether a specific senior becomes the victim of elder abuse.
The age of the individual can play a significant part, since older people often are more frail and less able to defend themselves or speak up if they’re abused. Likewise, physical dependence — regardless of age — can serve as a significant factor.
In addition, a senior’s economic standing can make it more likely that they will be the victim of financial abuse. Individuals who have more assets may be more at risk for this specific form of elder abuse.
Other factors can play a role, including:
- Psychological and mental status.
- Living arrangements.
- Environmental factors.
- Feelings of frustration, anger or despair.
What are the different types of elder abuse, what factors play a role, and what steps can family members take to prevent abuse of senior loved ones?
Examples of financial elder abuse can include money being drained from bank accounts, identity theft, or theft of valuable items from an individual’s home. Signs of financial abuse include sudden, significant changes in bank balances, unexplained major withdrawals or transfers of funds, or checks being signed over to a caretaker.
Financial elder abuse also can manifest as wills or contracts being rewritten or powers of attorney being changed without explanation.
It seems unthinkable that anyone would physically harm a fragile and helpless senior, but it happens every day. Some physical abuse comes in the form of violence, leaving obvious signs like unexplained bruises, fractures, sprains, bleeding, sores and other injuries.
Physical abuse also can occur in the form of neglect. In some cases, caregivers responsible for the health and safety of a senior may fail to provide the individual with adequate food, water, medications or an appropriate living environment. Sexual abuse and exploitation — sometimes at the hands of trusted caregivers or even family members — is another form of physical elder abuse.
Screaming, taunting, threatening or continually belittling a senior adult are forms of psychological elder abuse. Medical professionals or others looking for signs of psychological or emotional abuse may notice that the senior seems upset, agitated or withdrawn. The individual also may be unresponsive, and they may exhibit repetitive behaviors like rocking.
Other Forms of Abuse
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police identify additional forms of elder abuse, including:
- Spiritual abuse, including preventing a senior adult from performing their established religious customs and traditions.
- Violation of rights, including impinging on the right to privacy, access to information, and access to forms of support in the community.
- Institutional abuse, including housing a senior in unsafe or uncomfortable conditions. Institutional abuse can include overcrowded or unsanitary living conditions, insufficient health care services and sustenance, and physical or chemical restraints to control a senior individual.
Preventing Elder Abuse
If you have a senior family member, it’s important to understand what you can do to help prevent elder abuse. First, learn about the signs and symptoms of abuse.
In addition, make sure the full-time caregiver for your relative has sufficient time off and plenty of scheduled breaks. Make unannounced visits to check in, and look for any signs of abuse. If your loved one lives in a senior living community, check in frequently and make note of the community’s sanitation and other practices.
If you believe your family member has been the victim of elder abuse, it’s important to have legal representation from experienced lawyers. To discuss your case, please contact McLarty Wolf.