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Elder abuse in a COVID-19 era

Before the pandemic, it was estimated that 16% of older adults over 60 were affected by some form of abuse. That number was even higher for at risk individuals, including people with physical or mental disabilities and people living in long-term care facilities. Since the global lockdown began, it is believed that elder abuse has been on the rise as those providing support have seen an increase in the number of individuals seeking help. It is important for both older adults and caregivers to understand what  constitutes elder abuse and be aware of the signs of it so they can seek help. 

People have been forced to stay at home and older adults, who are at greater risk for contracting severe disease, have been especially careful not to leave their home or invite others not currently living with them into their home. Changes to healthcare services have meant older adults have not physically seen their healthcare providers, unless for an emergency. Having less overall contact with others during this time has meant signs of abuse can more easily go unnoticed. For older adults in retirement or long-term care homes, it has been even more challenging as family, friends and informal caregivers have not been able to visit and check-in on their loved ones in person.

So, what exactly is considered elder abuse and how do you recognize signs of it, especially in the current environment where physical interaction is severely limited, or non-existent? Elder abuse can be defined as "a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is a violation of trust, which causes harm or distress of an older person.” (1) This abuse can take many forms: systemic, physical, sexual, psychological, verbal or financial. Abuse and neglect can involve intimidation, negligence, emotional blackmail, manipulation, theft, push and shove, infantilization, threat, and aggression. 

If you are a caregiver, it is important to check-in with your loved ones regularly, either by phone or through other means such as a video chat. Don’t be shy to discuss the topic of elder abuse and the many forms it can take to increase awareness amongst them. For older adults, recognizing signs of abuse and knowing how to escalate your concerns is an important first step in protecting yourself from abuse. There is a wealth of resources that exist to help both older adults and their caregivers deal with abuse. Do not hesitate to seek help from a health or social care professional or to report the abuse.

We have compiled some important resources for older adults and caregivers to reference to increase awareness about elder abuse including common signs to look for.

To report elder abuse, you can find resources specific to your province or territory using the following link: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/campaigns/elder-abuse/resources-province-territory.html


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References

1.     Blundell B & Warren A. Reviewing the extent of rural and remote considerations in elder abuse policy: A scoping review The Australian Journal of Rural Health. 2019; 27(4): 351-357.

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