Elder abuse refers to the mistreatment, exploitation, or harm of older people. As you’d learn in our aged care courses, this can be carried out by anyone, including family members, caregivers, or authority figures. Regrettably, this issue is on the rise both in Australia and globally, so it's important to be vigilant and aware of it.
How Common Is Elder Abuse In Australia?
Research from the Australian government shows 1 in 6 older Australians has experienced some type of elder abuse, from neglect to financial, physical or psychological abuse (source). This is especially true when it involves care relating to a senior with dementia as this kind of abuse can go unnoticed for years.
What Are The Most Common Signs Of Elder Abuse?
Interpersonal skills can decline as people get older due to illness and age, and it can be hard to notice. It's even more challenging because the person causing the harm usually keeps it a secret. However, with some awareness and observation, you can become better at spotting it.
Warning Sign - Poor Hygiene
If you're looking after the elderly or taking care of a loved one and you consistently notice that their hygiene is not up to standard when they are supposed to receive professional care, it's a significant red flag. Professional caregivers should ensure their patients are clean and comfortable. Occasional lapses might happen, but if it becomes a pattern, you should take notice.
Warning Sign - Weight Loss
You don't need specialised training to know that people working in aged care are responsible for providing meals. So, if your loved one or patient unexpectedly starts losing weight, it should make you wonder why. It could be due to old age or illness, but when combined with other symptoms, it becomes more concerning.
Warning Sign - Becoming Withdrawn
It's natural for someone who's being mistreated to become withdrawn, especially when the abuser is present. You may notice that they are cheerful and outgoing until a particular person appears, and then they become silent. Some might mistake this for moodiness, but it could indicate that something is wrong, so be vigilant.
Warning Sign - Other Caregivers Arguing or Belittling
Sometimes, you may witness other caregivers arguing with or belittling the people they are supposed to care for. They might try to justify it by blaming it on a difficult patient, but it could be a reflection of the quality of care being provided. Regardless of the circumstances, any form of unpleasantness is unacceptable, as online resources on the subject emphasise.
In reality, elder abuse can be hard to witness directly, but its effects are often noticeable to those who know what to look for. If you suspect elder abuse, you can reach out to the Australian Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192 if you’re in QLD or 07 3867 2525 outside of QLD. It's confidential, and they provide advice and support on how to address the situation.
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