'Increasingly significant' abuse and neglect of seniors noted in report from B.C. advocate
A watchdog report into the abuse and neglect of B.C. seniors found a significant increase in reports over the past five years, prompting calls for the province to implement a more robust education and reporting system.
Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie released her findings and recommendations Wednesday, drawing attention to problems that have largely been overshadowed by health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year and a half.
"We need to remember there are issues that existed prior to, and will remain long after, the current pandemic recedes," Mackenzie wrote in the summary of her report. "One of these is the concern about rising levels of abuse, neglect and self-neglect in the seniors' population."
The watchdog's report found over the past three to five years, there has been a 69 per cent increase in reports of violent crimes involving seniors to the RCMP. There's also been an 87 per cent increase in reports of physical abuse and 49 per cent increase in reports of financial abuse to Vancouver police.
The problem, Mackenzie says, is those figures may still be lower than they actually are.
“Those who work in the field of adult protection believe the cases are both rising and that there is significant under-reporting,” she said at news conference Wednesday.
Asked what’s driving the increase, Mackenzie said there are a variety of factors at play, including that risk factors are rising. She said those included things like poverty, isolation, and stresses related to the pandemic.
"There are simply more frail vulnerable seniors than there were," she explained. "So the prevalence of (abuse and neglect) is increasing – it would appear quite dramatically, in some cases."
In putting together the report, the seniors advocate's office reviewed existing data, conducted a provincial survey with more than 1,500 respondents, completed a province-wide consultation with service providers from 109 organizations, and reviewed current legislation and programs.
"The abuse, neglect and self-neglect of seniors can take many forms," Mackenzie said.
"There are the obvious: the acts of violence and theft. But for vulnerable seniors, there are often more subtle forms, where the abuse can be psychological: humiliating seniors, diminishing their identity and infantilizing them and exerting control over their affairs by making them feel they're not capable of making decisions."
Mackenzie said some forms of neglect can even come from "the best of intentions," but may demonstrate someone's inability to care for a loved one.
"Regardless of why, the neglect results in often irreparable physical harm to the senior such as severe infections, loss of mobility, the development of any host of illnesses and often premature placement in long-term care," she said.
Mackenzie's 54-page report outlines, in detail, the types of abuse seniors experience in the province, who is being impacted and what supports are currently in place. It also offers five recommendations to improve systems in the province.
First, the report recommends developing and implementing a provincial standard of practice, policies and front-line training to ensure there's a "consistent and robust approach" to responding to seniors' abuse and neglect in the province. The report also calls for a province-wide awareness campaign to make sure the public and health professional have the skills to recognize and report abuse.
Thirdly, the report says there should be a central contact with one phone number to report calls of concern. That number should be managed by people trained in adult protection and the team should not only monitor cases, but also document them for an annual report.
The seniors advocate also calls for consistent data collection and definitions to record case information. Finally, it says there should be a review of the Adult Guardianship Act and regulations to give guidance on how to protect adults.
"Given the knowledge and tools needed, British Columbians have proven they will do the right thing," Mackenzie said.
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of health outlined funding increases to Seniors First BC for the operation of the Seniors Abuse and Information Line, as well as for the provincial Council to Reduce Elder Abuse.
"The Ministry is currently working with its federal, provincial and territorial partners on a newly established elder abuse working group to ensure that B.C. is implementing the most current and effective approaches to addressing elder abuse," the statement said.
There was no firm commitment to expand education, create a single phone line or to streamline reporting.
Alberta, Ontario and the federal government all have public campaigns to teach people how to recognize the signs of elder abuse.
"With better awareness and education on the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect in seniors and a clear path to reporting, I am confident that we will provide better protection for the valued seniors in our province in the years ahead," Mackenzie said.
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