Cailin Gagnon speaks at the Winkler Senior Centre about how to recognize the signs of elder abuse and what can be done if someone is being abused.
June 15 marked World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The yearly, world-wide event aims to start the conversation about elder abuse, a problem that can often be misunderstood and swept under the rug.
“This is an issue that isn’t necessarily talked about as much,” Services to Seniors program specialist at Southern Health-Santé Sud Cailin Gagnon said. “By having this day, it’s providing relevance to the topic and encouraging people to ask for support and help if they need it.”
Gagnon gave a presentation at the Winkler Senior Centre about how to recognize the sign of elder abuse, and how to get help or step in if you see it happening. Abuse of older adults is categorized as harm caused by someone who limits or control their rights and freedoms. When someone uses their power to take advantage of, influence, neglect or harm an older adult, this counts as abuse. Abuse can be physical, verbal, financial, sexual and spiritual.
People experiencing abuse can feel small and powerless. Some abuse will be evident, but some abuse may be subtle and hard to see. Some of the warning signs can be depression or withdrawal from social activities, signs of neglect like little food in the house, and injuries that can’t be explained. These warning signs should flag your attention and let you look closer at the situation.
Gagnon urged people to recognize the “ageist attitudes” (discrimination based on age) that may lead to abuse. “We talked about entitlement, children [feeling] entitled to the elder’s money when they pass away,” she said. “[You should be] conscious of that and also be aware of treating them with respect and treating them like anyone else in the community. They’re the people that took care of you, so they deserve that respect as well.”
“I think education is the biggest thing,” Gagnon said. “We’re hoping this information is going to be passed on to other community members, continuing the conversation and making sure that it remains relevant.”
While the exact numbers aren’t known (often because people aren’t comfortable reporting the abuse) the latest figures estimate that 5 to 10 per cent of older adults experience some form of abuse. “We’re thinking it’s a lot higher,” Gagnon said.
One of the most important things you can do as a witness is interrupting the isolation. “If [you’re] seeing that someone is not participating in activities as much anymore, is removed, is showing signs of physical abuse, [you can] ask if they’re okay,” Gagnon said. “Open that door to see if they are, in fact, suffering from abuse and if they’re comfortable talking about it.”
If you think you or someone you know may be experiencing senior abuse, call the Senior’s Abuse Support Line (24/7) at 1-888-896-7183 or visit seniorsabusesupport.ca. The Support Line is toll-free and confidential.