Tenfold increase in elder abuse during COVID-19 pandemic, advocates say
VICTORIA -- The vast majority of those dying from COVID-19 are those aged 80 or older, but advocates say the pandemic also puts them at risk of elder abuse.
The CEO of CanAge, a national seniors advocacy group, says the phones are ringing off the hook with calls from people concerned about seniors and from older people themselves.
"On a usual day, one-in-five older Canadians are subject to elder abuse. We are seeing a tenfold increase in elder abuse across the community," said Laura Tamblyn-Watts in an interview with CTV News.
Tamblyn-Watts said she's disappointed the federal government hasn't put money towards addressing the issue with regards to awareness or supports. She added the federal minister has a responsibility to ensure the health of seniors.
B.C.'s seniors advocate told CTV her office hasn't seen an uptick in calls. Still, she admitted the pandemic does add another layer of risk. Isobel MacKenzie added many seniors are frightened by COVID-19.
"That is going to leave them a little bit more vulnerable to miracle cures, you know, 'Take this and it's as good as a vaccine.' Those are the kinds of things that I really worry about," she said.
Scammers are already trying to capitalize on the pandemic by offering "miracle cures" and fake tests.
With more seniors at home alone, they may be looking to the internet to get information, and this where MacKenzie thinks they may also fall prey to greed.
"Seniors are much more likely to live alone. And so, there's no one there to share this burden of the COVID-19 journey. And so they're going to be more susceptible when somebody reaches out," MacKenzie said.
Tamblyn-Watts referred to the scams as a "scourge" and pointed out that wasn't the only pressure seniors may face, when it comes to handing over money.
"The increased pressures of families moving home, many of whom have lost their jobs, the bank of mom and dad is wide open and older adults are very much at the most vulnerable phase."
Elder abuse takes many forms, including physical and emotional abuse. There's another risk that could come from keeping people at a distance - neglect.
"Now might be the time when the isolation really begins to settle in you know if you haven't seen someone for a couple of weeks, that's one thing. When that couple of weeks stretches out to four weeks six weeks. That looks different," noted MacKenzie.
The office of the seniors advocate is working on a report on elder abuse in the province. The goal was to have recommendations out by the end of the year, but the pandemic may change those timelines.
Meantime, a phone line and website set up to help older people with groceries, daily check-ins and other tasks has been deluged with offers for help.
"We've had over 7,000 folks reach out through… some are wanting help, others want to help."
While MacKenzie said the pandemic was shining a light on the systemic issues facing seniors, she's hopeful the attention will lead to long-term change.