Vulnerable adults are people who are at greater than normal risk of abuse. Older people are vulnerable, especially those who are unwell, frail, confused and are unable to keep track of their own affairs.
As we get older, we may need assistance from others with managing our daily living needs and financial affairs, making us more vulnerable to abuse. Both men and women can be at risk of being abused.
Types of Abuse
Abuse can take many different forms; these include physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, financial or material abuse, neglect or discriminatory abuse.
This can occur anywhere and in any circumstance. It may occur for people living alone in their own homes, in a carer’s home, in residential care, nursing home care, hospitals or public places.
Abuse may be carried out by a wide range of people, these could be relatives or family members, professional staff, paid carers, volunteers, neighbours, friends and associates - essentially people who deliberately exploit vulnerable people and strangers.
There are a number of reasons why elder abuse occurs, these may vary in each circumstance and may consist of a single act or repeated acts. In some cases strained family relationships may worsen as a result of stress and frustration particularly as the older person becomes more dependent. In others, a carer’s dependence on an older person for accommodation or financial support may be a source of conflict.
Social isolation is a significant risk factor for an older person to suffer abuse. Many older people are isolated because of physical and mental infirmities, or through loss of friends and family members.
Cultural factors that may affect the risk of elder abuse include:
- depicting older people as frail, weak and dependent.
- breakdown of the bonds between generations of a family, thereby changing the basic support networks for older people.
- leaving an older parent to live alone, in societies where older people were traditionally cared for by their offspring
Support and Advice
If you are receiving support or care from health services, residential or domiciliary care, there are regulatory bodies established by law that will take action should any form of elder abuse be suspected.
If you live in your own home and do not receive care from a structured care service, you can still approach adult safeguarding regulatory bodies. If you have concerns that someone you know is being abused, you should approach the topic sensitively and encourage the person to talk to someone they trust.
For a variety of health reasons some older people may be unable to make certain decisions for themselves and need others to act on their behalf. The Mental Capacity Act 2007 aims to protect people who may not be able to make certain decisions and to empower them to make their own decisions when possible.
For more advice and information about the mental capacity Act and managing someone else’s affairs click here.
You can contact the following organisations for help and advice on how to deal with the situation:
Age UK Advice on 0800 169 65 65 or http://www.ageuk.org.uk
Action for Elder Abuse 0808 808 81 41 or http://www.elderabuse.org.uk
Be aware that if they think you are at risk, they have a duty to report it. However, they should discuss with you about how you would prefer to handle it.
In the UK you or an advocate can contact your local Social Services / Social Work Adult Safeguarding department. The telephone number should be in your phone book and your local council website GOV.UK
Additionally, the UK has a number of regulatory bodies to oversee residential and domiciliary care, these are:
England: Care Quality Commissionhttp://www.cqc.org.uk/ (ph. 03000 61 61 61)
Scotland: Care Inspectoratehttp://www.scswis.com/ (ph.0845 600 95 27)
Wales: Healthcare Inspectorate Waleshttps://cssiw.wales.gov.uk/ (ph.0300 062 8163)
Northern Ireland Department of health, Social Services and Public Serviceshttp://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/index/hss.htm/ (ph 02890 52 05 00)