Dr. Marla Shapiro: Time to act against elder abuse is now
Published Monday, September 17, 2012 2:34PM EDT
According to the Department of Justice here in Canada, elder abuse is often under-reported. It is described as “any action, often committed by someone in a relationship of trust, that results in harm or distress to an older person.”
It seems inconceivable that it exists. but did you know that in Canada, in 2009, there were police reports of some 7,900 crimes. Elder abuse includes physical, psychological and financial abuse, as well as neglect. Abuse of finances is the most common kind of abuse and results when someone -- often someone the victim knows -- wants to control or isolate the elderly person. Of the reports on record, 35 per cent are committed by a family member, another 35 per cent by a friend or acquaintance and 29 per cent committed by a stranger.
With our growing demographics of aged and the prediction that by 2036 there will be more than 10 million Canadians over age 65, the time to act is now.
There is proposed legislation in Canada to care for this kind of abuse. The government remains active in addressing elder abuse through the New Horizons for Seniors Program and the continuation of its elder abuse awareness campaigns. The campaign ran again during the month of February and featured an elder abuse television ad, complemented by both a print ad and a new web component targeting financial abuse.
Studies have been conducted in Canada to assess where we stand on this important issue. A random sample telephone survey was conducted in 2009 of 2,008 elderly persons who lived in private dwellings. About 40 persons per 1,000 elderly population in private dwellings had recently experienced some serious form of maltreatment in their own home and at the hands of a partner, relative, or other close contact.
The findings suggest that about 100,000 elderly persons in Canada recently may have suffered from some forms of abuse or neglect. Victims of material abuse and neglect were more likely to be widowed and living alone and to report that they have no one to assist them in the event of illness or disability. Victims of verbal aggression and physical violence tended to be married to and living with their abuser. The problem of elder abuse in Canada is significant .
In this week’s CMAJ is an article calling for a national approach to combat elder abuse. It cites that 4 per cent of seniors -- as many as 200,000 to a startling 500,000 -- experience some form of elder abuse or neglect.
Written by two experts in humanities and geriatrics, it highlights the need for societal involvement to address this growing concern. This past March as the article points out, Bill C-36 was read -- Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act -- which the major impact of these crimes on elderly must be taken into account when sentenced. But will this solve the greater problem of preventing abuse?
Being a caregiver to an elderly person can be draining emotionally and financially. The article highlights that there are persistent lack of resources to support the estimated 2.7 million caregivers. Caregivers themselves feel their health is impacted by the burden of caring for the elderly.
Who is likely to be an abuser? Those who are more likely to commit these crimes are those with substance abuse, lower education levels than the victim, physically isolated, socially isolated and ageist. For the abused victim, those with poor health, disability, separated or divorced are more at risk.
What can be done? The article cites 3 opportunities:
- Direct financial support so caregivers have income security
- Increase services for caregivers and those requiring care ( formal education, training and respite)
- Support and resource groups for caregivers.
Clearly the time is now to act. With the estimated need for 1.4 million caregivers within 3 decades, without action, the issue will only get larger.