Elder abuse is unfortunately a growing issue amongst our ageing population. It is complicated, particularly around what actually constitutes elder abuse and importantly, how to report it. Statistics from Hourglass, a national charity combating elder abuse, suggest that reports have increased 700% during the recent pandemic.
To help break some of the stigma, and to help us learn a little more, Amanda Warburton kindly spoke to us about the growing issue of elderly abuse.
Amanda works for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Partnership. The aim of the Partnership is to connect a range of agencies such as police, health, social care and voluntary organisations to raise awareness of domestic abuse and sexual violence and to coordinate a response to keep victims and their children safe from harm.
Amanda, some people might have the preconception that elder abuse is mainly limited to physical abuse – is this true?
Not at all. The Home Office definition of Domestic Abuse includes psychological, emotional, sexual and financial abuse and some of these will not involve physical violence. Older people are particularly vulnerable to financial, or economic, abuse which could involve a spouse or family member taking money or benefits from them, forcing the house to be signed over or taking out credit cards in their name.
Coercive control is also an important type of abuse to be aware of and can particularly affect vulnerable people. Coercive control often uses threats and intimidation to make the victim do what the abuser wants.
It’s a common misconception that abuse needs to be physical in order for authorities to take it seriously – this is not the case.
Is it true that older people are more likely to experience abuse from an informal carer or family member?
Yes, Safe Lives (a UK domestic abuse charity) looked into the issue of domestic abuse involving older people and they estimate that over 12,000 people over 65 have experienced at least one type of domestic abuse in the last year. The data is hard to corroborate because the Crime Survey for England and Wales which is most often used to determine prevalence of abuse, stops at age 74 – but we know that abuse doesn’t have an age limit.
The Safe Lives research showed that an adult family member was the abuser in 44% of cases they looked at. The abuser was the partner or spouse in 40% of the cases.
Over 12,000 people over 65 have experienced at least one type of domestic abuse in the last year
These family members may well also be providing care for the older person and this gives them ample opportunity to assert control over them. Examples could include denying or interfering with medication, refusing assistance with personal care, and withholding food or drink, in addition to the financial abuse mentioned above. When the person relies on the family member as a carer it is extremely hard for them to seek help – they may not have any other contact with anyone else and they will also be worried about what will happen to them if they speak out, will they have to go into a home or will no-one believe them and the abuse will get worse?
What signs should people look out for to tell whether an older person is being abused?
The signs of physical abuse, will often be ‘explained away’ as the person falling over due to frailty or accidental injuries whilst helping with personal care. Financial abuse could be happening if the person is always short of money or food or struggling to pay bills. A person experiencing emotional abuse may be withdrawn, quiet and ‘not themselves’.
This helpful table from the WHO Report on Violence and Health lays out some other potential indicators of elder abuse to look out for if you are worried about someone.
What should someone do if they are concerned about a relative/neighbour/friend?
If someone is concerned they should try to speak to the person on their own. This may be very difficult though if the abuser is also their carer or spouse so it’s really important not to ask questions when anyone else is there. If it’s safe to do so, you could ask questions like ‘Are you safe?’ ‘Is there anything troubling you?’
If someone tells you about abuse please believe them and reassure them that you will support them in whatever they want to do. Older people in particular do not always want the abuser to be removed, especially if it’s a spouse or very close family member.
You can call Hourglass’ confidential helpline – 0800 808 8141 – if you are a victim of elder abuse or you are worried that an older person you know is a being abused.
Where can people in Cambridgeshire find support?
If you are worried about an older person in Cambridgeshire, you can visit the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Safeguarding Partnership for information and advice.
You can also visit www.cambsdasv.org.uk for details of local domestic abuse support services and how to self-refer.