Over 500,000 older people are abused in the UK each year
Abuse of older people is a growing problem and therefore it is a serious social problem for us all. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to quantify the scale of the problem due to it being hidden behind closed doors. However, it is believed that over 500,000 older people are abused in the UK each year, but research on this area is very limited.
Elder abuse can occur anywhere. This includes in someone’s own home, a residential home, or a hospital.
Both older men and women can be at risk of abuse, though a majority of victims are women over the age of 70. There are five common types of abuse: physical, psychological, financial, sexual abuse and neglect.
Abuse of an older or vulnerable people generally remains a hidden crime, because a victim can be in fear of further abuse, or that they will not be believed or perhaps have concerns as to the ramifications that could occur if they reported it. They may not realise that they are being abused, or that they are embarrassed to admit what is going on.
Warning signs of abuse
Due to the barriers the victim may face to report abuse, it is extremely important that society takes an active role in spotting any signs of abuse.
Some of the warning signs of abuse that a family member, carer or professional may observe include:
- Helplessness, hesitation to speak openly, implausible stories, confusion or disorientation, anger without apparent cause, sudden changes in behaviour, emotionally upset or agitated, unusual behaviour (sucking, biting, or rocking), unexplained fear, denial of a situation, extremely withdrawn and none communicative or responsive, a person telling you that they are being verbally or emotionally abused.
Indications of elder financial abuse
An older person is extremely vulnerable to financial abuse as the abuse is often perpetrated by someone close to them such as a friend, relative or carer. So it is important to be aware of the signs that can indicate this, for example:
- Signatures on cheques that do not resemble the person’s signature or signed when the person cannot write
- Sudden changes in bank accounts, including unexplained withdrawals of large sums of money by a person accompanying the holder of the account
- Sudden inclusion of additional names on the person’s bank accounts, abrupt changes to, or unexpected creation of a will
- The sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to the person’s affairs and possessions
- The unexplained sudden transfers of assets to a family member or someone outside the family
- Numerous unpaid bills, overdue rent, care home bills, public utilities bills etc when there is someone who is supposed to be paying the bills
- Unusual concern by someone that an excessive amount of money is being expended on the care of the person
- Lack of amenities such as TV, personal grooming items, appropriate clothing items
- Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuables such as art, silverware or jewellery
- Deliberate isolation of the person from their friends and family, resulting in the carer having total control
- Change in living conditions, lack of heating, clothing or food or inability to pay bills/unexplained shortage of money.
Signs of Physical Abuse or Neglect
In extreme situations, an older or vulnerable person may be subject to physical abuse or neglect. Some of the signs of this are:
- Cuts, lacerations, puncture wounds, open wounds, bruises, welts, discolouration, black eyes, burns, fractures, broken bones and skull fractures
- Poor skin condition or poor skin hygiene
- Dehydration and/or malnourishment without an illness – related cause, loss of weight
- Soiled clothing or bedding
- Signs of being restrained
- Inappropriate use of medication, overdosing or underdosing
Taking the next steps
If you suspect that a loved one or you yourself is being abused, there are various things you can do but the most important thing is to get the abuse stopped as soon as possible. It is important that you seek some advice:
- Action on Elder Abuse is a charity which operates a helpline – further details can be found here https://www.elderabuse.org.uk/
- SFE has a document about elder abuse which you can read here.
- If you feel you need to take legal advice, many of our SFE members are expert Elder Abuse solicitors who are experienced in abuse cases and may be to help you.
- Contact your Local Authority as each county have a safeguarding policy to protect the older or vulnerable person.