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Know the signs, break silence around elder abuse

Gabrielle Kirk is director of the Claresholm Co-ordinated Community Response to Elder Abuse. She gave a presentation Nov. 13 at the Welcome Mat.

Gabrielle Kirk wants to get people talking about elder abuse.
Educating people about the problem and promoting available resources are key steps in addressing a problem that will affect one in 10 seniors.
“There is a lot of ignorance in society about elder abuse,” Kirk said. “I think that makes it hard for people to talk about elder abuse.”
Kirk, who is director of the Claresholm Co-ordinated Community Response to Elder Abuse, was at the Welcome Mat recently.
Kirk told the 10 people at her presentation that elder abuse often goes unreported because victims feel shame and guilt, or don’t know who to turn to for help.
“Much of the time it involves family members and the victims don’t want to report it,” Kirk added.
Elder abuse is defined as any action or inaction that jeopardizes the health and well-being of an older adult.
“It is an unfortunate thing that happens,” said Angie O’Connor, director of Fort Macleod Family and Community Support Services, who hosted the Nov. 13 session at the Welcome Mat. “It’s about power. It’s about control.”
Financial, emotional and physical abuse are leading forms of elder abuse.
Neglect and sexual and medication abuse are the other forms.
As few as 25 per cent of cases of elder abuse are reported, and the abusers are often someone known to the victim.
“Anyone can become a victim of elder abuse,” Kirk said.
The following advice is offered to people experiencing elder abuse:

  • Phone 911 if you are in immediate danger.
  • Phone the Alberta Family Violence Line at 310-1818 for 24-hour support, information, advice and referrals.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what is happening.
  • Keep a daily written record of the abuse.
  • Take legal action, such as a court protection order.
  • Don’t blame yourself.
  • Know that help is available.
  • “Know that it’s not your fault, and there are resources available,” Kirk said.
    Signs of financial abuse include missing money or belongings, irregularities in bank accounts, and living conditions that do not match the senior’s income.
    Emotional abuse can present itself through depression, anxiety and changes in mood or behaviour.
    Physical abuse can be detected through signs such as bruises, burns, fractures and pulled-out hair.
    Neglect manifests as dehydration, malnutrition, poor hygiene and bed sores.
    Signs of sexual abuse include bruising around the beast or genital area, depression or anxiety.
    Medication abuse is the intential or unintentional misuse of medications and prescriptions, which can be noted by missing, empty or unused prescriptions.
    People who suspect a senior is being abused can help.
    “You don’t have to solve a person’s problem but being there for support is a good way to help,” Kirk said.
    Seniors are advised to protect themselves through the following steps:

    • Keep money in a bank or financial institution and not at home. Have regular cheques and payments deposited directly into a bank account.
    • Arrange to have bills debited directly out of a bank account.
    • Keep a list of all property, bank accounts and belongings.
    • Write a plan for repayment of money before lending it to a relative.
    • Stay in touch with friends.
    • Prepare a will with a lawyer’s help and keep it up to date.
    • Ask a lawyer how a power of attorney can ensure your wishes are followed.
    • Ask a trusted friend or family member to review all documents before signing.

    “In the end, knowing the signs can break the silence,” Kirk said. “Together we can take action against elder abuse.”

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