Elder abuse escalates the longer it continues. It becomes more frequent and more severe in its consequences. Early recognition and action are therefore important.
Signs of abuse are often subtle. Frequently there is a cluster of signs or symptoms, few of which will point to obvious “abuse”.
Seeing signs of abuse does not necessarily mean that the older person is being abused. Many “signs” can also indicate other conditions: physical or mental illness, sensory deprivation, limited functional ability, poverty or grief, to name a few. It is important not to jump to conclusions. However, it is equally important not to ignore or “explain away” the signs. “Trust your gut”. Abuse must be considered as a possibility.
Explore the causes and explanations for those signs which make you suspect abuse. In getting this information:
- Always talk to the older person, if possible alone. Do not rely on the explanations given by others.
- Observe behaviour closely.
- Use non-threatening questions: To the older person, “Are you getting all the help you need?” To the caregiver, “Do you need more help looking after…?”
- Focus on the unmet needs of the older person. Blaming or reprimanding the suspected abuser will close doors to future help.
- Be reassuring. Guilt and shame are barriers to getting help.