June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. When people first hear that they often say, “Is that a problem?” We don’t generally concede that in our society elders face abuse.
What is meant by ‘abuse’ and how does one recognize it? Like so many social movements, the first step in combatting it is recognizing the phenomenon.
We think of abuse as physical or at least obvious emotionally destructive behaviour, like hitting or yelling.
More subtle forms of abuse can occur when seniors are isolated or reliant on others for basic needs, like shopping and banking. In some situations seniors may be pressured into giving family members money. People living with them may take over the household choices, like hogging the TV remote, or inviting others to come and live with the senior. In some cases elders don’t feel comfortable speaking up, or don’t have anyone to talk to about the problem, so their quality of life is slowly eroded.
Abuse can also take the form of neglect or self-neglect. Are one’s dietary needs being met? Shopping, cooking and eating alone can be tough.
What about interacting with peers and with other generations? Isolation can follow retirement, the loss of a husband or wife and losing one’s driver’s license.
Just as some younger folks prefer time on their own, some seniors do as well, but a choice of whether to socialize is important. Health-related issues, such as loss of hearing or mobility, should not result in people feeling stuck at home.
What can we do to reduce elder abuse?
Keep an eye on our elderly family members and neighbours. If they are becoming isolated for some reason then seek some assistance to intervene or just stop in for a friendly chat.
Recognize that we are all on the same continuum, and that those who have put in more years carry values, wisdom and perspective that others lack. Seek out those qualities.
Support and assistance are also available by contacting:
Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) Toll free 1-866-437-1940
Island Health Centralized Intake 1-866-928-4988
Community Living (Port Hardy) (for people with disabilities) 250-949-7419
On a local level volunteers from the BC Association of Community Response Networks are available to provide information and advocacy. (The Mount Waddington Community Response Network represents the ten communities of our Region, and is part of the Seniors/Elders Better Living Advisory Committee (SEBLAC), a sub-committee of the Mount Waddington Health Network.)
Port Hardy: Eddy LaGrosse – 250-902-9260
Namgis: Peggy Svanvik
Alert Bay: Sandra Waarne – 250-974-5780
Whe La La U: Sharon Whonnock
Port McNeill: Julie Foster – 250-956-4187
Port Alice: Gail Neely – 250-284-3927
For those who want to know more about elder abuse here are some resources:
Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse http://www.cnpea.ca/
BC Community Response Network (http://www.bccrns.ca/) also has lots of information and resources.
Mount Waddington Health Network has invited the new Seniors’ Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, to come up, perhaps this fall, and learn about issues unique to the North Island.
Barb Park is coordinator of the Mount Waddington Health Network, which advocates for North Islanders across a spectrum of health and social services issues. firstname.lastname@example.org