Elder abuse takes place when an older person is harmed or caused distress by a single or repeated action – or lack of appropriate action – by somebody they should be able to trust.
The charity Action on Elder Abuse estimates that around 500,000 older people are abused in the UK every year and that the victims are usually women over 70.
Elder abuse is more likely to happen when there is an unequal balance of power and the older person is emotionally, physically or financially dependent on their abuser.
The abuser could be a family member – a son, daughter or grandchild – or someone in a professional role, like a paid carer in a residential home or a hospital worker.
Some people may be unable to complain about the abuse, for example, people with dementia, and others may be frightened of the consequences (or not being believed).
Some forms of abuse are deliberate:
- shouting or hitting someone
- tampering with medication so the person is easier to look after
- sexual or domestic abuse
- leaving someone in soiled clothes or bedding.
Or the abuse is opportunistic:
- taking money or valuables from someone’s home
- encouraging dependency in return for perceived future benefits, e.g. change of will.
Unintentional abuse or neglect
Sometimes, older people can suffer abuse or neglect simply because the people looking after them do not fully understand their needs – or how to meet them.
In residential care or a hospital, elder abuse may be the result of poor training and skills (or even lack of time to spend with someone), for example:
- clearing food away before the person has finished eating
- making decisions for someone instead of asking them.
If you are looking after someone at home and you are struggling to cope with their needs, it’s important to seek support – for both of you.
Less obvious forms of abuse
Other forms of abuse are less obvious and the perpetrator may not even consider their actions to be abusive (until challenged):
- taking control of an older person’s finances against their wishes
- misusing a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)
- threatening to isolate someone from family, for example, their grand-children.
Protecting older people from abuse
It is up to everyone to keep older people safe.
If you suspect someone is being abused – or you think you are being abused – you must tell someone immediately.
Contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team. In an emergency, call 999.
Action on Elder Abuse lists some of the signs to look out for in older people who are being abused: