The song says “Love is a many-splendored thing.” It takes many forms.
So does the mistreatment of older persons: Verbal abuse. Psychological-emotional abuse. Physical abuse (including sexual abuse). Financial abuse. Neglect. Scams and swindles. These are its main categories. There is, however, nothing splendorous about them. And they are not love. And it’s nothing to sing a song about.
In a way, perhaps, we should not be surprised that our elderly population is especially prone to abuse. In general, as we become older we become more frail, more socially isolated, less mobile, less mentally alert, and therefore more vulnerable to those who are always ready to take advantage of others. Purse snatchers, for instance, often focus on “little old ladies”.
Maybe, though, you would be surprised to know these facts. (1) Mostly, elder abuse is a family affair. In 64 per cent of reported cases, the offender is a family member – an adult child, a grandchild, or a current or former spouse. (2) Contrary to what one might expect, most reported abuse situations involve younger seniors (between the ages of 65 and 69). (3) Older men are more likely than women to be abused by an adult child. (Women are more likely to be abused by a spouse.) (4) While Canada statistics report that seven per cent of seniors incur some type of serious abuse, it is also suspected that up to 80 per cent of elder abuse goes unreported.
Less surprising are these facts. (1) Of all the forms of elder abuse, financial abuse – through coercion, theft, or fraud – is the most prevalent. (2) While studies show that threats, fear, and embarrassment are significant reasons that abuse goes unreported, it is ironic that seniors most often do not report their abuses because they love the ones who abuse them, and “don’t want to cause trouble for their [abusive] children”.
Elder abuse is a crime. What can we do about it?
If you are an abuser, for God’s sake, stop it! Apologize, make restitution, seek forgiveness. Find some thread of “rightness” within you, and stop it, now!
If a friend tells you that he or she is being abused, listen to him. Believe her. Encourage him to share his story with a trusted, caring family member, or to report it to the police or other person of authority. Or offer to help him think through other alternatives if he’s unwilling to report it (such as identifying and taking safety steps, or changing his bank account). (In most cases, though, do not confront the suspected abuser directly. Direct confrontation other than by another family member or a person of authority could escalate the situation.)
If you suspect that a friend is being abused, you can approach the subject indirectly, with questions such as “How are you doing?” “Are you having troubles at home (or with your family members)?” “Can I help you?” “Is there someone I can put you in touch with who can help you?”
If you discover that a crime or dangerous situation is occurring, call 911 or RCMP or tribal police immediately!
If you are a caring family member who knows or suspects that a relative is abusing a senior member of your family, offer support to the victim, consider reporting directly to the police, or consider a confrontation/intervention with the suspected abuser. In such a case, do your due diligence first.
If you are the victim of elder abuse, seek help. Speak to trusted family members, to friends, to a counselor, or to the police. If you are not ready to report to the police, contact a community-based victim assistance program. South Okanagan Victim Assistance Society (SOVAS) can be reached at 250-493-0800. You can contact our local RCMP Victim Services Program for a referral to them.
If you are an older person, do your own preventive homework. For example, read the “Seniors’ Guidebook to Safety and Security” published by RCMP. Copies to borrow are available at our local Senior Center, our local Public Library, in the magazine-rack at the Health Centre, and at the Keremeos RCMP Detachment. The Guidebook can also be downloaded from www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pubs/index-eng
Other Local or BC Resources:
RCMP Victim Services, 250-499-5511, email@example.com
PVPP (Proactive Violence Prevention Project), 250-499-2352
Health and Seniors’ Information Line, 1-800-465-4911
BC Coalition to Eliminate Abuse of Seniors, 1-866-437-1940
Crime Stoppers, 1-800-222-TIPS (8477)
Public Guardian and Trustee, 1-800-663-7867.
There is no excuse for abuse, of anyone, of any age.