Bermuda will commemorate World Elder Abuse Day. World Elder Abuse Day is held on June 15th annually to bring awareness of elder abuse and negligence through cultural, social and economic processes.
Our elders should always get their share of respect, care, and concern. Elder abuse can be of many types, financial abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect.
The global pandemic of 2020 caused all our lives to come to a crashing halt. The effects of the stay at home order, public health regulations, social distancing and mask-wearing made our daily lives challenging, tasks and chores cumbersome, and the lack of social interaction brought loneliness and anxiety to many.
What we cannot overlook is how the pandemic has affected our seniors. Before the vaccine was available, our seniors were cut off from their connections to their community, families and friends. In some cases, the effects of the last year have caused damaging cognitive and emotional scars.
Today, we wish to shed some light on elder abuse and how we can prevent this from happening in our community. This year’s theme, “Access to Justice”, serves as a reminder of the importance to fully address the needs of older persons who may seek recourse.
During COVID-19, our Ageing and Disability Services (ADS) were extremely busy responding to the needs of our seniors. Seniors who were usually independent were forced to stay put, and seniors who did not have support were forced to seek assistance.
We need to protect the social and human rights of older people in society as such, and there needs to be an understanding of the term elder abuse:
Elder psychological abuse is the verbal or non-verbal infliction of emotional or mental anguish. Typically, the abuser repeats a pattern of behaviour over time, intending to control the victim through fear.
Psychological abuse, which leads to emotional fragility, is often intentional, and the abuser uses coercion and manipulation to control or defraud a victim. Sometimes an abuser will employ multiple techniques to achieve a more profound response, particularly if they have an ulterior motive for emotionally or mentally abusing the victim.
Some of the most common examples are bullying, threatening, harassing, intimidating, and coercing the victim.
It is hard to imagine that anyone would deliberately want to harm a senior, but unfortunately, elder abuse is a problem. Physical elder abuse can be hard to recognize, but tell-tale signs include strange injuries or negative behavioural changes in an older person.
Seniors often require extra attention or more intensive care. The responsibility for caregivers of families may sadly lead to physical harm. There is no excuse for abuse, but families and friends must know the warning signs and prevent putting the elderly in physical danger. Family members should make sure that their loved ones are always in a safe environment.
Elder neglect occurs when someone fails to care for an elderly person properly. It can be a family member or someone responsible for the seniors care. Instances of negligence are the caregiver not bathing, feeding, exercising excessive restraint, not administering prescribed medicine regularly or over medicating, not attending to medical needs and even reducing a seniors opportunity to walk or mobilize. Neglect happens when the person responsible for the elder who is unable to care for themselves leaves the person alone in unsafe places or situations. In other cases, it’s inexcusable and straightforward negligence, as you can well imagine, if not addressed, leaves serious emotional, physical, and sometimes life-threatening problems.
Some instances of elder abuse are intended to exploit the person financially; you’ve probably heard of scams targeting seniors. Financial abuse deprives older adults of their resources, independence and, in many cases, life savings and homes.
There are increasing fraud cases against seniors or misuse of a person’s assets or credit or undue influence to gain control of an older person’s money. These are signs of possible exploitation. Elders have become targets and can be susceptible to scams and other fraud. Advances in technology can also make it difficult for seniors to know who to trust and what’s safe.
I am reminding seniors that cybercrime is taking place more frequently. In this digital information age, cybersecurity and information security must be considered, and any warning notices posted by the Bermuda Police Service must be taken seriously. If you do the required steps to safeguard your personal information you can be protected from financial abuse.
Signs of Abuse:
Signs of elder abuse can be physical, such as bruises, sores, dislocations, or broken bones, and they can also include the inappropriate usage of medication. If your loved one is being neglected, the abuse signs may include weight loss, dehydration, and unclean surroundings.
Seniors who are being financially abused may suddenly make changes to their wills, have unpaid bills, missing cash or goods, or unexplained withdrawals from their accounts.
I will now share with you some tips for protecting yourself or your loved ones from elder abuse.
•?Anticipate potential incapacitation and make sure your financial and legal affairs are in order. If they are not, enlist professional help to get them in order, with the assistance of a trusted family member or friend, only if you are absolutely sure they will always act in your best interest, whether you are of sound mind or not.
•?Be very careful with who you add to your bank account. Ensure it is someone you trust completely.
•?Keep in touch with family and friends and avoid becoming isolated.
•?Use safety devices and technology to assist with alerting monitoring agencies that help if needed.
•?Carefully select a rest home or nursing home that can meet the needs of the elder.
•?If you are unhappy with the care you’re receiving, whether it’s in your own home or in a care facility, speak up.
These are just some simple things that you can do to help protect yourself or your loved ones.
Reporting and Investigating:
Senior Abuse reporting and investigation involves the investigation of all forms of senior abuse, including physical, sexual and psychological abuse; financial exploitation; and physical and psychological neglect that is reported to ADS either by calling 292-7802 or by e-mailing a completed ADS referral and reporting form to firstname.lastname@example.org. ADS keeps the Senior Abuse Register that is maintained by the Registrar.
Senior abuse should also be reported to the Bermuda Health Council if associated with a Rest or Nursing Home.
During the financial year 2020-21, there were eighty-seven (87) reported cases of alleged abuse in various forms, which include: physical, psychological and sexual abuse; financial exploitation; and neglect. Out of all the reports received by ADS, physical abuse made up the highest portion of reports received, at thirty percent (30%), whilst financial exploitation and psychological abuse were the second highest at nineteen percent (19%). The remaining fifty-one percent (51%) are a combination of mainly neglect and sexual abuse.
ADS works in collaboration with the Bermuda Police Service on abuse cases and, where appropriate cases proceed to charges and prosecution. During the financial year 2020-21, ADS supported forty-five (45) clients through abuse related investigations in conjunction with the Bermuda Police Service.
In Bermuda, as well as other jurisdictions, it is recognized that it is difficult to take care of an elder who has many different needs, and it is equally difficult to be elderly when age brings with it infirmities and levels of dependence. Both the demands of caregiving support and the needs of the elder can create circumstances in which abuse is more likely to occur.
In closing, I would like to remind the public that in 2019, the Government introduced The Bermudian Charter of the Rights and Responsibilities of the Elderly and Adults in Need of Long-term Care and Assistance – adapted from the European Charter of the Rights and Responsibilities of Older People in Need of Long-Term Care and Assistance to suit Bermuda’s needs.
The Charter is a reference document setting out the fundamental principles and rights needed for the wellbeing of all those who are dependent on others for support and care due to age, illness or disability. The Government adopted this document to:
•?Raise awareness for individuals and the community of people’s fundamental rights and responsibilities who have long-term care needs and to foster best practices; and
•?Complement and support other measures which are already implemented or in development.
The Charter was developed based upon international and local standards and is available for review at www.gov.bm
As we move beyond the pandemic, I encourage everyone who is blessed to have their senior loved ones with them, follow up with them, and discuss their care and concerns. And as the theme of World Elder Abuse states, it is up to us to make sure they have “Access to Justice”. At this time, I want to personally thank all the seniors of Bermuda as they have paved the way for many of us today, and I want to personally thank all those persons who work tirelessly to care for and assist our seniors.
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