A major point to remember – whether you are personally coping with abuse or whether you are concerned about the abuse of another – is that you are not alone. Abusers very often exploit the fact that someone may be (or feel) isolated. They can encourage, emphasise or create dependency in someone in order to exploit that feeling to their own advantage. And, very often, they will rely on someone not disclosing, or the natural disbelief that many people hold when considering elder abuse.
It is important therefore to protect yourself if you are an older person, and sometimes that can be very simple. It is also important that neighbours, friends, families and practitioners are alert to the possibility of abuse – and are therefore ready to act on concerns or suspicions. Too often abuse has continued because people spotted something that felt wrong, but took no action as they doubted their own concerns. And sometimes the abuse has then continued for years longer. Being alert to the possibility of abuse is sensible, without needlessly seeing it everywhere. Being prepared to act is prudent.
Concerned for yourself
It is not easy sometimes to accept that you are being abused, and it can be even more difficult to tell someone else. Sometimes this is because the person who is doing it is a close family member or a friend, and sometimes it is because you think people will laugh at you or ridicule you or it will affect how your community or friends think about you. It is often for these sorts of reasons that abuse goes unchallenged.
A good place to start therefore is to ring our helpline if you can. Our number will not appear on your telephone bill, and our staff and volunteers understand the difficulties you might face and the options you may be able to consider. They will work things out with you, and you will never be asked to do anything that you feel unable to do. We will always seek to respect your confidentiality, but there may be rare occasions when this is not possible (for example, if the abuse you are experiencing might affect other people too).
Things to think about.
If you feel that you might be at risk of abuse you should consider the following actions, which might help to reduce that risk. Often abusers are only successful because they keep you quiet or stop others from finding out what is happening to you. It is therefore wise to:
- Maintain contact with any friends or neighbours that you have known for a long time and who you are confident can be trusted
- Keep in contact with those friends and neighbours if you move to a new address. If you cannot go to see them, try to write letters regularly telling them about your new life and what is happening to you.
- Encourage friends to visit you at home and try to join a local group or club. The more interaction you have with other people the less chance there will be for you to become isolated.
- Have regular medical or dental appointments. Dentists and GP’s are people who should be able to talk to you, or spot signs that you are being abused.
- Make sure that people are aware that you know where you have put important documents or property, and always open and post your own mail. If you have to rely on others to post your own mail then try to use more than one person. Don’t leave cash, jewellery, or valuable possessions lying about.
- Talk to a lawyer about arrangements that you can make for any future possible disabilities or problems, and always get legal advice before making arrangements for someone to take care of you in exchange for your property, possessions, or money. Don’t allow anyone to keep from you the details of your finances or property management.
- Don’t sign anything unless it has been checked by someone not involved and independent of the issue. If someone asks you to sign a Power of Attorney, always get independent advice to make sure you understand what it means.
Concerned for someone else?
Try to speak to the older person about what you have noticed, being as open and honest as possible. Give the older person the opportunity to talk and listen carefully to what they tell you, offering to seek help if that is appropriate. Some people may want to talk but may be worried about how you might react so it is important to stay calm if they begin telling you that they have been abused. Some people may ask you to promise not to tell anyone else about the abuse. Whether you are a practitioner, friend or relative, you should always be honest and never make false promises – sometimes the abuse might affect more than one person and you will have a responsibility to other people too.
You must remember that an older person is an adult, and should never be treated like a child, even if they appear confused and disoriented (he or she can still react to what you are saying and how you say it). Try not to take over or be over-protective, and remember that you should not lead someone into saying something. Try to balance the need of the older person to be heard with the need to ensure you do not prejudice future action, such as a police or disciplinary investigation.
If it is appropriate, try to explain simply the sort of people who might be able to help e.g. health or social care professionals (such as a GP), police, home carers, care-home employees, volunteers and advocates, or organisations in our Helpful Contacts section. Perhaps offer to approach one of these on the person’s behalf. Ask what they want you to do.
Remember that in some minority communities there is great stigma associated with abuse by family members and it is not always true that the older person would prefer to talk to someone from their own community. This may in fact be the last thing that they want, so never seek to use a family friend, neighbour or similar as an interpreter. Seek such services from an organisation unknown to the older person.
If you were correct in your concerns or still have strong suspicions, you can talk to the AEA helpline and seek advice. If you work in health or social care you should speak to your line manager immediately – and remember that you have a professional relationship with the older person. This means that matters of this nature are disclosed to you as a representative of your organisation. If you suspect your line manager is the abuser then speak to someone in Human Resources or to another more senior manager. Do not keep it to yourself.