During an call to a credit card company,Helen Waters* was surprised to learnthat her mother’s caregiver had stolennearly $5,000 through cash advances. Itcould have easily become more.
At first, Waters and her sister Jillwere adamant that it could not be thecaregiver, who had been looking aftertheir 82-year-old mother for nearly ayear.
“Mom’s short-term memory is prettymuch gone, and she is unable to care forherself so we hired a caregiver to comein every day to prepare meals, bathe her,do laundry and some light cleaning,”Helen says. They hired a caregiver who’dworked part-time in a nursing home andhad years of experience with seniors. Shewas bonded and had no criminal record.
Above all, the caregiver was
wonderful with their mother. “We saw
improvements in Mom’s health issues,
and the caregiver went above and
beyond any time it was required,” Helen
says. “I vouched for her 100 per cent as
it didn’t seem possible for her to steal
from Mom. She was becoming part of
the family. There was no reason that we
would ever suspect her.”
Despite the family not wanting to
believe it, it was soon clear that the
caregiver had taken the money. The
sisters changed the locks to their
mother’s home and the police laid
criminal charges against the caregiver.
Not every senior has family or friendslooking out for them. And, sadly,sometimes it’s family or friends who dothe abusing.
Elder abuse can take many forms andaffect any older adult, regardless of theirbackground, health or heritage. Theftor financial control is the most commonform of elder abuse but it can also beemotional, psychological, physical,sexual or neglect.
Jill and Helen saw first-hand whyknowing about elder abuse is soimportant. It can be difficult to see thesigns of abuse because the person beingabused may hide the abuse out of fear orshame, or may not be able to understandwhat’s happening to them.
“It was never on our radar,” Jill says.“We never thought our Mom’s caregiverwould take advantage of a vulnerablesenior under her care.”
Knowing the signs of elder abuse
“Unexplained or unusual injuries,
changes in mood, inability to pay
for basic necessities, and changes in
behaviour or physical status are just
a few things that may signal that
something is not quite right,” says Lisa
Bueckert. She’s the clinical lead of social
work with Alberta Health Services’
Integrated Home Care Program in the
Calgary Zone. Other possible clues
of abuse include changes in weight,
hygiene and appetite, increased visits
to the hospital or doctor or taking
The better you know the older adultin your life, the easier it is to spot thesesigns. “It’s important to establish atrusting relationship with the older adultand open the door to conversation,”Bueckert says. Follow up on any signsof abuse, but don’t jump to conclusions.“Further exploration is necessary to geta clear picture of the situation and avoidmaking assumptions,” she says.
Older adults who feel isolatedor vulnerable may think they haveno choice but to tolerate the abuse,especially when it’s complicated byfamily relationships.
“Providing reassurance and supportallows the older adult to make thebest decision for their particularcircumstance,” Bueckert says. “Socialworkers are a great resource in these
*Names changed to protect privacy.
It’s important to establish a trusting
relationship with the older adult and open
the door to conversation