More measures needed to end elder abuse

We don’t hear about it in the news everyday, but estimates warn elder abuse could be affecting as many as 200,000-500,000 Canadians over the age of 65. It isn’t just physical violence: elder abuse takes many forms including sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect and financial mistreatment. Despite new legislation in the works, experts warn that Canada could do more to stop this insidious crime.

In an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), Barbara Sibbald, deputy editor, CMAJ and Jayna Holroyd-Leduc, associate professor, Geriatric Medicine Section, University of Calgary call for the government to step up efforts to prevent elder abuse.

True, elder abuse laws are changing — such as the announcement of Bill C-36, Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act, back in March of 2012. However, simply locking up the offenders isn’t good enough, say the authors. We need to address the underlying causes of elder abuse too. Because many cases of elder abuse involve family dynamics, the authors recommend steps to improve financial well-being and support.

“If we don’t act, the problem is going to get worse. One model estimates that the demand for caregivers will nearly double to 1.4 million within 3 decades,” Sibbald and Holroyd-Leduc write. “The Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act only touches the most egregious aspect of the problem. The broader solution lies in a more comprehensive approach that requires the support of government and the Canadian health care system.

In their editorial, Sibbald and Holroyd-Leduc make the following recommendations to help end elder abuse:

1) More financial support for caregivers. Statistics show that people who are financially dependent on the ones for whom they care are more likely to be abusers. Better financial support for caregivers would mean they wouldn’t be dependent on someone else’s pension — and it would give them the resources to pay for respite care.

“Their ability to work outside the home is severely curtailed by their responsibilities in the home, and they are saving taxpayers money and improving elders’ quality of life by allowing them to stay in their home,” say the authors. “So why not ease the way for caregivers with some financial compensation?”

This financial support could come in the form of tax breaks or employment insurance. The authors also note that the federal guaranteed income supplement should be automatically be given to people who qualify based on their tax returns. Unfortunately, many seniors don’t know how to apply for it.

2) More services for caregivers and the people they care for. Many good services exist across Canada, but there are many variations in what is available — and Sibbald and Holroyd-Leduc say those services don’t go far enough. They’re calling for more formal education and training for caregivers as well as more respite services.

The authors also note that better provincial home care support could be available to caregivers.

3) Establish support and resource groups in all provinces and territories. These resource groups would be a one-stop source for information and services such as respite care, professional support and support from other caregivers. Caregivers would be able to access these groups online or through doctors and other health care professionals. Such services do exist in some places, but everyone across the country should have access.

“Caregivers are essential members of the home care team and should be provided with the necessary support,” write Sibbald and Holroyd-Leduc.

These steps won’t solve everything — they don’t tackle the issue of abuse within care facilities, for example — but the authors call them a “promising place to start.” Many cases of abuse are never reported, and experts have long known that caregivers face a great deal of stress and financial pressure. These steps could help all caregivers and seniors — not just those at risk of abuse.

“Our elders have supported us throughout their lives; it is time we return the favour,” Sibbald and Holroyd-Leduc conclude.

Photo © Melpomenem

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