On June 15, 2016, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) celebrates its 10th anniversary. Started in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, the day is set aside to bring global awareness about the mistreatment of older persons.
Elder abuse, according to Manitoba’s chapter of WEAAD, is defined as “any act or lack of action by someone in a position of trust that harms the health or well-being of an older person.” Forms of abuse can include, but are not limited to, psychological, financial and sexual violence, as well as neglect.
In Manitoba it is estimated that between 4-10% of people over the age of 60 are victims of elder abuse. It is also estimated that only 1-in-5 older adults disclose their experience of abuse to others, so the rates of abuse may actually be much higher.
The mistreatment of an older adult has severe consequences. It can lead to mental health concerns, social isolation, and even premature death. Preventing elder abuse and responding to it in a timely and appropriate manner can save lives.
Being able to spot warning signs that an older adult is being abused can play an important role in helping someone seek help. Signs that someone is being abused include:
- Anxiety and fear
- Social Isolation
- Confiding in you about the abuse
Another layer of complexity is that for some older adults there may be a previous history of abuse. Someone who has managed to cope in their adulthood with a traumatic past may find that it is harder to cope as an older person. The process of aging itself, with the loss of independence and the onset of health complications, can have a significant impact on someone with a history of trauma. Signs that someone is being affected something traumatic from their past include the same warning signs that someone is being abused: heightened anxiety or fear, depression, social isolation, and confiding in trusted ones about past abuse.
If an older adult discloses to you about past or current abuse, your response does not actually change. Talking about abuse, past or present, can be a very difficult and vulnerable process. If someone tells you about abuse they have suffered, one of the most important things to do is to listen and believe them.
Another important action is to support the person. Support can look like many things, but it is always good to be informed about what resources are available to a victim of violence. If you suspect someone is in imminent need of safety, call 9-1-1. If you are an older person who has experienced abuse, or a concerned person seeking more information, Manitoba has a Seniors Abuse Support Line that you can contact 24/7 at 1-888-896-7183. For more information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day you can visit their webpage, http://www.weaadmanitoba.ca/
Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre provides crisis intervention, support, and information to survivors and secondary victims of sexualized violence in north-eastern Manitoba. They run workshops in schools throughout the region that aim to prepare youth for strong, healthy, and respectful relationships. They also operate a drop-in support service on Monday afternoons in Powerview-Pine Falls. For more information, visit www.survivors-hope.ca or call 204-753-5353.