Who is most vulnerable?
People who are physically, emotionally or psychologically frail and dependent on others for care are most at risk of elder abuse. Abuse and neglect can happen in the home, as well as in residential care or nursing homes and hospitals. It can involve care workers, family, neighbours, friends or strangers. People most at risk at home include:
- the socially isolated
- anyone with an illness that affects memory or ability to communicate
- those in a poor relationship with their carer
- those who provide housing, financial or emotional support to their carer
- those who depend on a carer with drug or alcohol problems
If you are experiencing harm through abuse or neglect, or are worried about a friend, relative or client, there are ways to help. You can go to a social worker, GP or police officer in complete confidence.
How to recognise elder abuse
Elder abuse may happen once or regularly over short or long periods of time. The abuse can be:
- physical – hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, inappropriate restraint, misuse of medication, inadequate monitoring of prescriptions
- psychological – emotional abuse, threats of harm, threats of leaving or stopping care, lack of human contact, or stopping access to people who can advise or help
- sexual – all unwanted sexual acts
- financial or material, including theft from the abused person, fraud, or coercion regarding wills and any financial transactions
- neglectful - or just not doing something, for example not ensuring the elderly person is eating or is warm and clean
- discriminatory – racist, sexist, exploiting a disability or other forms of harassment or slurs
There are some tell-tale signs to look for:
- unexplained bruising, fractures, open wounds and welts, and untreated injuries
- poor general hygiene and weight loss
- helplessness and fear – or any sudden change in behaviour
- unexplained changes in a person's finances and material well-being
- questionable financial or legal documents, or the disappearance of those documents
Some types of abuse - including assault (sexual or physical), theft and fraud - are criminal offences that should be reported to the police, health and social care trust and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).
Such reports may lead to prosecution following a criminal investigation. You may feel too afraid to report abuse, especially if your carer is the abuser, but you are entitled to the protection of the law and to dignity and respect. Anyone concerned about a friend, relative or carer who is being abused needs to take action to prevent further abuse and protect others.
Reporting elder abuse to social services
Local HSC trusts have social workers dealing specifically with abuse or risk of abuse. If you want to speak to someone, contact your local trust and ask for the adult protection or safeguarding co-ordinator. The adult protection co-ordinator will help you with advice and information, and will ensure action is taken to give people at risk of abuse appropriate protection and support. They can provide a co-ordinating role and investigate your concerns.
- Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
- Northern Health and Social Care Trust
- Southern Health and Social Care Trust
- South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust
- Western Health and Social Care Trust
How to make a formal complaint
If you want to complain about how a relative or friend is treated in a nursing or residential care home, contact the manager in the home. Nursing and residential care homes must:
- be registered with RQIA
- have a formal complaints process
- investigate and keep records for every complaint
If your complaint is about elder abuse, the manager of the home must:
- inform the local health and social care trust
- the police
You can complain to your local trust about the services it provides. By law all trusts must investigate and respond to complaints. If you or a relative are in hospital and not being cared for properly, you can complain to the local trust.
You can discuss any financial concerns with your solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).