Have you ever wondered whether an elderly person is really alright?
Elderly people, particularly if they have mental or physical ailments, are less likely to be able to stand up to bullying, defend themselves if attacked or realise if they’re being preyed upon financially. Sadly, such vulnerability can leave openings for others to take advantage of them. No older person should be subjected to any form of abuse, especially at the hands of someone they know and trust.
Alarmingly, one in 20 older Australians experience some form of abuse by someone close to them, often a member of their own family or someone entrusted with their care. Abuse of elders takes many different forms – it can be physical, emotional, sexual, financial, social or neglect – and the signs are not always easy to see.
Elder neglect—failure to fulfil a caregiving obligation—is one of the most prevalent forms of elder abuse. Neglect can be intentional or unintentional; usually based on ignorance or denial that an elderly person needs as much care as he or she does.
RDNS SA Registered Nurse, Margaret Mifsud, has witnessed elder neglect first hand.
“When I met this gentleman, he was in pain. He had a significant wound on his sacrum and was deteriorating greatly, with wounds on his hip, heels and toes, and under his feet. He was living in a residential facility and had a daughter who was overseas. He had basically gone home to the residential facility to pass away," Margaret explains.
"He had no pain relief and no modified mattress for the bed. When I enquired about making sure he had some comfort, I was told the family were apprehensive about spending anything to get him an air mattress, or any sort of relief for his pressure areas.
“It was deplorable. The man was in agony, and it was preventable.
“I told staff at the residential facility that this man needed an air mattress and pain relief – so whether they paid for it or the daughter paid – he needed them. They organised everything and he was given pain relief that day and an air mattress the following day. He was on that air mattress, and comfortable, when he passed away six hours later.”
Unfortunately, Margaret’s experience is not isolated, and rates of elder abuse are expected to increase as our population ages.
The Red Flags
Warning signs of elder abuse may include an older person seeming fearful, anxious, depressed or isolated. Hesitation to talk openly, non-responsiveness, implausible stories and inconsistency are all red flags.
Physically, there may be injuries, weight loss, signs of dehydration, or an absence of personal care or hygiene. Rapidly deteriorating health should never be ignored.
Disappearance of cash or possessions, unexplained financial transactions, and changes to a will, title or other documents can be signs that a person is being financially exploited.
What you can do if you suspect abuse is occurring
If you suspect that an elderly person is at risk of, or suffering from, abuse or neglect from a carer or family member, it’s important to speak up.
“Do something,” urges Margaret. “Even if that's telling someone. You might get backlash from the family, but the priority is the person.
“Go with your gut. Even if you’re not 100% sure – what if you were right and you didn’t do anything? That is far worse than thinking ‘Ok, well I was wrong’.”
And if you're right?
“There is a lot of support out there,” says Margaret. “There are advocates to help people. You just have to know where to go.”
If you suspect abuse is occurring or you want to talk to someone about your own experiences, there is help available. Each state and territory provides information about abuse and abuse prevention, as well as useful contacts.
Western Australia: Advocare Inc call 1300 724 679 (Perth) or 1800 655 566 (rural)