November 21, 2014
In its most basic sense, elder abuse is harm to an older adult. The World Health Organization defined abuse and neglect of older adults as: “…single or repeated acts, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.” Sadly, elder abuse is prevalent in our society and while elderly abuse may not be a new phenomenon, it is only recently that serious attention has been given to this form of violence. In 2004 there were 3,370 incidents of violence against Canadians aged 65 and over reported to police services (Statistics Canada Report - Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2006). The main reason for the new recognition of this old problem is the increasing number of aging individuals in the country. (STAT). Elder abuse can take several forms, neglect, physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse, economic/financial abuse, all types of behaviors attributed to domestic violence. It also occurs in a wider range of settings and relationships as the abusers can be spouses, children, grandchildren, other relations, friends, residents in an institution and paid caregivers. Issues related to individual cognitive and physical functioning are central concerns in elder abuse and consequently frail older people have become identified with this perspective (Straka, S 2006). Many seniors around the world are being abused: harmed in some substantial way often by people who are directly responsible for their care, institutions responsible for their care or based on their gender. Dependency and elder abuse
As we are facing an increased aging population there is an emphasis on family involvement with its elderly kin and the positive aspects this family involvement can provide to the well-being of the aging member’s. The family involvement can include not only visiting, discussions and regular communication but also providing daily care of its elder members. 11.90% of the Canadian population are providing care to a family member or friend over the age of 65% (Statistic Canada (2012) Table 14-0001). In review of Pillemer (1985) there is a significant connection between dependency and elderly abuse. The need to care for an elderly relative is, in itself, a stress producing situation which can bring about abusive or neglectful behavior, reacting with physical, verbal or emotional abuse. Statistics Canada Report - Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2006 reports 29% of reported incidents against older people were committed by a family member. Senior women were more likely than senior men to be victims of family violence: four out of ten women (39%) were victimized by a family member, compared to two out of ten men (20%). 55% of the offenses committed by family members were common assault which included pushing, punching, slapping and threatening to apply force. While caregiver stress is sometimes a factor in abuse, studies suggest that most caregivers cope well with this role.
The alternative situation is that the abuser could be dependent on the elderly victim for financial assistance, housing and emotional support. As the elderly individual can no longer fulfil these dependencies the abuser becomes stress and acts out violently. Steinmetz (1983) argues that families undergo “generational inversion,” where an elderly individual becomes dependent on their children for financial, physical, and emotional support placing the caregiver under additional stress; “As the economic, physical, social and emotional dependency needs of the vulnerable elderly increase, the potential for abuse increases unless adequate resources are available” (Steinmetz, 1983:6) Institutional Elder Abuse
The oldest seniors in society are most likely to live in long-term care facilities and there are studies that confirm that elder abuse within an institution is an issue. The College of nurses of Ontario, Fact sheet, Preventing client abuse conducted a survey of 1,027 Ontario nurses found that 42% had witnessed at least one incident of elderly abuse within a three year period. Of these victims, 61% of reported victims were women, 67% of victims were 65 or older, 73% of victims were stressed, and 52% of victims were medicated and/or confused. Those who are most disabled are most vulnerable ran the highest risk of being victimized as they are more dependant and more difficult to escape the abuse or report it. This dependence can make it harder for the staff of these facilities to relate to them as well may also feel the need to defend themselves from the aggression and abuse shown by elderly residences.
The majority of elderly in long term facilities are women; this is attributed to the fact that on average women live longer than men. Most of these women are widowed and may not have the support to live on their own or with family. In 1996, 40% of all women aged 85 and older loved in an institution. This is compared to the 24% of men aged 85 and greater. If we look at the younger age categories there are more women than men living in long-term care facilities (Spencer 1994) Gender role in elder Abuse
Older men and women experience abuse differently. Female elders are abused at a higher rate than males and most likely to be a continuation of domestic violence where men are more likely than women to be victims of crimes committed by strangers such as financial and emotional abuse. Men are more likely to perpetuate abuse but less likely to report abuse when it happens to them. Statistics Canada Report - Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2006 reports that in 2004, the rate of violence against older women (44 per 100,000) was 22% higher than the rate of violence for older men (36 per 100,000). In 2000, the difference reported was 46 versus 38 per 100,000. While surveys show that reported cases of domestic violence declines with age, some researchers suggest that a senior abuser may escalate his abusive behaviour after retirement when feelings of isolation add to his sense of a lack of self-worth (Packota). As senior women grow older, spouses represent a smaller proportion of abusers. This may be because older women outlive their abusive spouses, or that the spouses are no longer physically capable of violence. For senior men, the proportion enduring spousal violence decreased slightly with an increased age of the victim.
In review of statistics represented in Frederick, J. and J. Fast J (1999), family members accused of violence against seniors tend to be men (79%). This holds true despite the fact that women are more likely to be the informal caregivers of seniors Male perpetrators were often 65 years or older (30%), reflecting the finding that a significant portion of senior violence is spousal violence. As senior women grow older, spouses represent a smaller proportion of abusers. This may be because older women outlive their abusive spouses, or that the spouses are no longer physically capable of violence. For senior men, the proportion enduring spousal violence decreased slightly with an increased age of the victim. Conclusion
While the number of abused and neglected elders may be small relative to the total number of elders, these are critical and often life-threatening situations. As elders become more physically frail, they’re less able to stand up to bullying and or fight back if attacked. They may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them. Mental or physical ailments may make them more trying companions for the people who live with them or caring for them.
College of Nurses of Ontario. Preventing Client Abuse, Fact Sheet. Online: www.cno.org/docs/ih/47008_fsPreventAbuse.pdf
Edwards Peggy (2009) Elder Abuse in Canada: A Gender-Based Analysis. Division of Aging and Seniors, Public Health Agency of Canada
Frederick, J. and J. Fast J (1999) “Eldercare in Canada: Who does how much?” Canadian Social Trends. Cat. No. 11-008. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada
Gannon, M (2006) Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2006. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2006.
Packota, V. Emotional Abuse Of Women By Their Intimate Partners: A Literature Review. Canadian Health Network, “Education Wife Assault”.
Pillemer, Karl (1985) The Dangers of Dependency: New Findings on Domestic violence against the Elderly Spencer, C (1994) Abuse of Older Adults in Institutional Settings. Ottawa, ON: Health Canada, Mental Health Division
Statistics Canada (2012) Table 114-0001 - Population providing care to a family member or friend with a long-term illness, disability or aging needs, by sex and age group, occasional, CANSIM (database) Steinmetz, Suzanne K. (1983) “Family violence towards elders Straka, S (2006) Responding to the needs of older women experiencing domestic violence. “Violence Against Women, 12, 3 (2006): 251-267
World Health Organization & International Network for the Prevention of Elder