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"Tremendous increase" in reports of elder abuse: SAIF

Elder abuse has increased perhaps by 50 per cent in this city and there are multiple complex factors causing that rise.
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Details

SAIF has a free Elder Abuse Response and Awareness program. Elders are defined as those over 50 years of age. They accept calls and emails from the general public about elder abuse. Intakes are conducted weekly and they provide appropriate resources as needed.

Its awareness program educates the community, business and organizations in understanding the signs of elder abuse, how to help, and what resources are available for those in their community on this issue.

They encourage the general public to report elder abuse whenever they suspect it's occurring. You can report it to us via email or phone. You can also contact your local RCMP detachment, call 211, or speak to your health care professional.

To inquire about our Elder Abuse program, please contact SAIF's Elder Abuse Response Coordinator via email at [email protected] or by calling 780-460-2195. Visit stopabuse.ca for more information.

SAIF is hosting a fundraiser Car Rally that is planned to be part scavenger hunt, part Amazing Race, and all fun. Participants will undertake challenges with prizes at stake, and it's all to help financially support St. Albert Stop Abuse in Families' counselling programs for seniors, adults, youth, children and families dealing with the impacts of family abuse and violence.

The action takes place on Saturday, Sept. 26, from 1 to 5 p.m. This event will replace the Red Shoe Gala, which can't take place this year due to the pandemic.  Registration forms can be found at stopabuse.ca/saif-car-rally.

Source: SAIF at StopAbuse.ca

Definitions

There are five main types of elder maltreatment — the more generic term for abuse. There's sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, and neglect. The distinguishing characteristic of elder abuse, as opposed to garden variety discrimination, is abuse is when there is a power difference. Where there is an expectation of trust. That is the difference. You don't expect your kids to be mean to you, neglect you, or rip you off, for example.

There is also institutional abuse that takes place in a senior's housing or assisted living, a hospital, and the like.

Source: Gloria Margaret Gutman, a gerontologist, former professor, author, and researcher with Simon Fraser University, as reported in the June 6, 2020 edition of Pique Newsmagazine (piquenewsmagazine.com/bc-news/senior-abuse-and-the-pandemic-2510883)

Being old is a great accomplishment: besting the ravages of time, beating the odds of any number of ailments or accidents that could put one in jeopardy along an ever-lengthening road.

Being old means being a battle-scarred, timeworn survivor.

Survivors though elders may be, they now have to live through the strange days of a pandemic with all the drastic changes to their social networks and the constant concern about personal health and hygiene. In Alberta, the average age for COVID-19 fatalities is 83 years, though approximately one-third of all cases in the country are aged 60 or older. Looking deeper, the average age for those needing to be hospitalized is 62 while those who require ICU stays is 61.

Getting old is not for the faint of heart in the best of times, and these are certainly not the best of times. The novel coronavirus is not the least of seniors’ worries, only the most recent.

"On a usual day, one in five older Canadians are subject to elder abuse. We are seeing a tenfold increase in elder abuse across the community," Laura Tamblyn-Watts, the CEO of national seniors advocacy group CanAge, told CTV News back in April.

Nearly half a year later, the situation has not improved and Areni Kelleppan, the director of St. Albert Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF), can vouch for the extent of the problem here in this city. Just as with any form of abuse, the issue of elder abuse is complex.

In St. Albert, the volume of calls has increased perhaps by 30 to 50 per cent from January/February to June/July.

Kelleppan contrasted the difference between how seniors are protected versus how children are.

“For children, we have a number of protections in place. We have Child and Family Services. We have different protocols for when a child may be abused or vulnerable to abuse. We have all these kinds of protections for children because we identify them as a vulnerable class. What we don’t do is provide protections for seniors ... who can also be a vulnerable class,” she began.

“If there are medical issues, if they are medically fragile, if they’re diagnosed with dementia or cognitive issues, it is very difficult to find the protections for seniors. When we hear about seniors being abused, being defrauded, being scammed, there are very little protections in place to support them and that is a big issue. They can be very vulnerable to abuse.”

And then, she continued, there's the additional component of each senior being an adult human who has lived a full life and done many things over the course of their adult years. This means they have many accomplishments to feel proud about: it has built up their sense of self as an individual of worth.

That pride can sometimes be self-defeating. Even the concept of being considered "vulnerable" can be perceived as offensive and disrespectful.

“It's a very delicate balance. That's where we often find for elder abuse, for instance, the seniors themselves very rarely call for help because they're afraid that they will lose some of the ownership of themselves if they ask for help.”

Seniors can also be subject to a family member abusing them, which can make it even more difficult to have the privacy to reach out for help. There’s also the added dimension of that relative having power over the senior, in terms of controlling the senior’s housing. If something were to happen to the abusive relative, the senior might face the prospect of losing a place to live or losing that person in a caregiver role.

Like Kelleppan said, it’s a complex issue, and then COVID-19 comes down on top of all that to compress the matter even further.

Now, seniors who were used to home care visits and RCMP wellness checks have become even more isolated than they were previously. You can still call in on behalf of a senior who you think might be abused.

There has been a “tremendous increase” in reports of elder abuse to SAIF over the last several months, Kelleppan said. Many of these calls have come from long-term care homes where the seniors haven’t had their regular family visits. In their stead, the staff at these facilities have had trouble keeping up, she said, and the seniors have had to deal with the heightened worry of COVID-19, leading to quarantines, further health problems and death, all without being able to experience the closeness and comfort of one’s own family.

All of those things have resulted in the seniors themselves calling from these homes. It’s all very unusual.

“But that's how scared they've been and without any coping mechanisms or support a family to be able to reach out to. We've seen a lot of people concerned about seniors that they haven't seen in a while or are concerned that they're not asking for services, they're not asking for help, but they know they're vulnerable. People are calling about them. We're getting a lot of referrals from Sturgeon Hospital on seniors who have come in for whatever procedure, whatever issue, and then not necessarily having a safe place to release them to or appropriate care in the home for them.”


Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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