Elder Abuse Awareness Day - What Can You Do?

In 2015, 900 million people were 60 years old or older globally. By 2050 this figure will be 2 billion. The issue of elder abuse is not one we face individually, or as a country, but one we need to face globally. Only 4% of elder abuse is reported and yet from those reports we can determine that one in six people of 60 Years or older experienced some form of abuse in the last year.

Older people are often afraid to report cases of abuse, whether to their friends and family, or to authorities. This is why the health and social care sectors must be equipped to identify cases of abuse and support suspected victims.

With older individuals who have been abused at a higher risk of death (by 300%) this issue is one that cannot be ignored.

The Impact of Covid-19

Countries around the world have instigated various protocols around self-isolation in order to protect over-burdened health systems, and especially the vulnerable people of society – namely older people and those with underlying health conditions.

An estimated 66% of people aged 70 and over, have at least one underlying condition placing them at increased risk of morbidity or mortality if they become infected with COVID-19. Although people of all ages are at risk of contracting COVID-19, those over 80 years old are dying at five times the average rate.

While isolation may be the safest measure of protection against contracting COVID-19, it is well known that social isolation among older adults is a “serious public health concern” because of their heightened risk of cardiovascular, autoimmune, neurocognitive, and mental health problems.

As well, social isolation is one of the main factors that make an older adult vulnerable to abuse – the other being cognitive impairment. The UK Prime Minister’s public address caused one woman in her seventies to comment that she felt both “furious” and “marginalised due to her age”, further referring to the speech as “like a guillotine” in her interview with Sky News.

Research in the UK has shown that 89% of older people are suffering the effects of isolation and significantly reduced social contact. Dr Covinsky, a Californian Geriatrician who is particularly concerned about how the restrictions on visitors to residential care homes may be affecting the residents, has suggested that family members or friends who repeatedly test negative could offer volunteer as “designated visitors” permitted to spend time in quarantine facilities provided that much needed social connection.

Some medical professionals, such as Dr Michelle Riba, from the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, are advocating for ‘warm-distancing’. She noted “It is important for these folks, if they can, to let their loved ones know what is needed and for us to reach out to them by email or message how we can help… calling each day to make sure they are okay. It’s important for people to receive regular check-ins.”.

What can we do to prevent Elder Abuse?

There have been multiple attempts in various countries to establish educational or preventative measures for elder abuse. A study in 2019 compiled the results to discover which were most likely to succeed and which were most likely to fail. In this study it was found that programs requiring full time staff, face-to-face training, and home visits were the least likely to succeed. Programs that could be delivered with training integrated into an existing system or curricula, telephone based interventions, and simplistic integration were the most likely to succeed.

Of course, developing and implementing an entire program around elder abuse in the middle of the global pandemic is probably unrealistic given staff shortages with one in eleven care worker roles unfilled globally.

Instead, we can all commit to some simple steps to help prevent elder abuse:

  • Ensure teams are trained on how to identify and report elder abuse. Remember abuse is not defined as solely physical, there is also financial, emotional/psychological, sexual abuse and neglect.
  • Ensure teams are trained in dealing with common cognitive impairments such as dementia – 50% of older people living with dementia were reported to have suffered from abuse or neglect in 2010
  • Try to prevent social isolation by encouraging phone calls and letter writing – your local scout or guide troup, or schools may be interested in setting up a pen pal group
  • Where possible provide training to both the older people in your care and their relatives on how to spot scams and signs of abuse – making them aware of the problem and removing the stigma may encourage more to report in the future
  • Caregiver Stress – while rewarding, caring for an older person can be stressful. Make sure you, or the caregiver you are supporting, has ample time to rest and take care of their own needs

At Altura Learning, we provide high quality courses with examples of real life situations that can help your team to absorb and retain the knowledge, and apply the learning when confronted with such situations.

Vulnerable people are at risk of being subjected to a range of abuses, our course explores strategies to prevent, recognise, respond to and report abuse.

Our elder abuse course is available in different localised versions to account for local legislation: 🇦🇺  Australia, 🇬🇧  UK🇳🇿 New Zealand.