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Neglect dominates B.C. elder abuse calls

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Many seniors are afraid to report abuse from family members.

Many seniors are afraid to report abuse from family members. REUTERS

More than 1,000 calls of varying degrees of elder abuse were reported to the Seniors Abuse and Information Line — about a fifth of them described as “severe harm” — over the course of a single year in B.C.

The data, first collected in 2014, reveals the three most common types of abuse had to do with finances, neglect or emotional harm.

Martha Jane Lewis, executive director of the B.C. Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support, which runs the line, said the seniors being victimized often don’t know how to seek help.

“Many older adults don’t consider themselves being abused. They think it’s just family dynamics,” she said. “It’s the same as domestic violence, for many people in domestic violence situations they may stay in a dreadful relationship for a really long time — sometimes for their life.”

The support line provides victim services, legal advice, help to contact authorities and other services. The largest form of abuse it logged was neglect, making up nearly 36% of abuse-related calls. Next is financial abuse, at 25.6%, and finally emotional abuse, 17.3%.

Lewis said the cases she hears about often involve multiple forms of harm.

“It’s family relations ... (the children) are saying ‘If you don’t lend me money I won’t let you see the grandkids.’ Or ‘If you don’t help out the mortgage on my house is going to foreclose and we’re going to move away,’” she said.

Other cases involving more severe harm may be referred to police instead.

The work the centre does was captured in the recently released Monitoring Seniors’ Services report by B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, who said her worry is how many cases remain unreported.

“What’s important is that 15-16% of those abuse cases have been going on for five or more years,” she said.

Of particular concern, Mackenzie said, are those seniors who may no longer be mentally capable of saying no to their abusers.

In those cases, she said, the proper people to report this to would be the local health authority, which may send a clinician to assess the situation.

In cases where the senior may not have mental faculty to make their own decisions, there are powers under the Public Guardian and Trustee of B.C. to determine the risks, and if necessary, to take over or appoint a substitute decision maker for the senior.

In 2014/15, the PGT received nearly 1,500 referrals of abuse — 34% of the cases proceeded to an investigation.