By Vicki Verge
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, June 15, 2020
Sometimes the best thing to do with a dark subject is to force it into the light.
Today, June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), which, since its inception in 2006, has promoted the efforts of countries, communities, neighborhoods and organizations to create a better understanding of what elder abuse is and how it can be prevented. Forms of elder abuse include neglect as well as physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse.
Abuse or neglect can happen to any older adult. In fact, most older adults who experience abuse or neglect are mentally competent, are not dependent on other people, and do not require constant care.
Sadly, abuse of older adults most often involves family members; for instance a spouse, children, or grandchildren. However, abusers can also include friends, neighbours, paid care providers, landlords and staff, or any individual in a position of power, trust, or authority. Abuse can occur in any place, including in the home, a residential care setting, or in the community.
The impact of elder abuse can be significant, and, according to WEAAD Manitoba, can lead to long-term physical and psychological problems like depression, stress, anxiety and even high blood pressure and panic attacks. Those who’ve gone through elder abuse often experience feelings of shame or self-blame.
Canadian research indicates the problem is widespread, with between 4% and 10% of older adults experience one or more forms of abuse or neglect at some point in their later years.
It’s no surprise, then, that the prevention and reporting of elder abuse remains a high priority for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), its programs, facilities and community partners. Within the WRHA, staff are encouraged to report all incidences of patient/client abuse to authorities, regardless of the patient/client’s age. Staff will engage in conversation with clients and seek to establish trust and report these incidences with their permission and support wherever possible. Under extreme circumstances, however, staff may report suspected abuse without permission, under the terms of The Personal Health Information Act.
The WRHA is also working to increase staff awareness with respect to abuse, to provide them with the necessary tools to recognize abuse and neglect, and to engage in conversations with patients and clients when abuse is suspected. An online abuse training module for staff is currently under development.
Supports for members of the public include Age and Opportunity (A&O) Support Services for Older Adults’ Safe Suite Program, which provides temporary housing for anyone 55 years or older who needs a safe place to stay due to abuse or neglect and whose needs cannot be effectively met by existing abuse/crisis services. In addition to safe suites, the program offers counseling services, access to social workers, and practical assistance. Services are provided at no cost through partnerships with the Manitoba Seniors and Healthy Aging Secretariat, the Winnipeg Police Service, Victoria Lifeline and the WRHA.
A&O also offers elder abuse counseling through its Intake Line in Winnipeg at (204) 956-6440 or toll-free from outside of Winnipeg at 1-888-333-3121.
Those who suspect patient/resident abuse and neglect in personal care homes, hospitals or any other designated health facility may call The Protection for Persons in Care Office (PPCO) of Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living. The PPCO’s confidential, toll-free line is available at 1-866-440-6366 (outside Winnipeg) or 204-788-6366 in Winnipeg.
One of my favourite Canadian resources in the fight against elder abuse is itsnotright.ca. The website contains useful information about how you can identify abuse and help older adults at risk, what you can do when abuse or neglect happens, and, if you are an older adult, what you can do to keep yourself safe from abuse.
Perhaps the best tool we have in healthcare is available to family and friends at home as well: open lines of communication through which we find solutions or resources to help older adults experiencing abuse.
We all have a role in preventing elder abuse and can help protect our loved ones by showing them the respect they deserve and by educating ourselves about elder abuse: how to see it, how to report it, and how to help prevent it.
One simple way to help build awareness of this issue is by taking the opportunity to wear purple on June 15. By doing so, you’ll be helping build greater awareness of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, while demonstrating your support for keeping our seniors safe.
Vicki Verge is Regional Director Social Work for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Monday, June 15, 2020.
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