Everyone has the right to live without fear. We all have a role in making our communities safer and more respectful. Here are two things that neighbours, friends, and family members can do to help stop senior abuse:
- SEE it! Learn the warning signs of abuse. Pay attention when something makes you uncomfortable. Overcome your hesitation to help.
- CHECK it! Don't jump to conclusions. Talk privately with the person who you think is being abused. If you're not sure what to do, or if you need support, check with a professional.
Before you act, stop and ask yourself: What are the safety issues? Am I being respectful?
If the situation is dangerous, don't hesitate: call the police or 911. Trust your instincts. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
SEE it! Learn the warning signs
Here are some signs that a person might be abusing their power and trust in a relationship with an older adult:
- controlling what the older adult can do and who they can see
- blaming the older adult: It's your fault that I pushed you!
- a strong sense of entitlement: I can do what I want! It's my inheritance!
- treating the older adult like a child: Do what I tell you!
- frequent arguments, name calling, or threats
- leaving a dependent person alone for long periods of time
These are some signs that an older adult might be experiencing abuse:
- injuries, such as bruises, sprains, broken bones, or scratches—especially when the explanation does not fit the injury
- changes in behaviour, such as depression, withdrawal, or fear
- changes in regular social activity, such as missing religious or social events
- changes in living arrangements, such as previously uninvolved relatives or new friends moving in
- changes in financial situations, such as the cancellation of services (television, Internet, phone) or notices of unpaid bills
- things "disappearing" from the house
- signs of neglect, such as no food in the house, being left alone for long periods, or not having glasses, hearing aids, medications, or proper clothing
Trust your instincts when something makes you feel uncomfortable. A warning sign is like seeing the tip of an iceberg; there is likely much more going on below the surface.
Overcome your hesitation to help
CHECK it! If it's safe, talk to the person who you think is being abused
- Wait for a time when you are alone and not likely to be interrupted.
- Describe what you saw or heard. Stick to the facts. For example:
Do say what you saw. "I saw him take money from your wallet."
Don't use judgmental language. "I saw him stealing money from your wallet."
- Ask caring questions. Are you okay? Is someone hurting you? What do you want to do? How can I help?
- Be supportive and listen. Let them know that what is happening is not their fault.
- Encourage them to be their own advocate. Support them to make their own decisions.
- Respect their decisions, even when you don't agree. If you are concerned that they are unable to make informed decisions, ask for advice from a professional.
- Be patient. Leave the door open.
DO NOT confront or accuse the abusive person. They may take it out on the older adult.
- Document any abuse that you see. Write down the date and what happened.
- Learn about safety planning—how to stay safe in a relationship and how to leave safely.
- Find out what local services are available in your area.
- Make sure that family caregivers have the resources and support they need.