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Last updated: 27.02.20

How to safeguard the elderly

As we get older in life, we can find that we start needing support in everyday activities and begin relying on others more. For some, this can mean that elements of care need to be introduced into their lives, and in some cases it can introduce vulnerabilities. Protecting vulnerable adults, specifically the elderly, from neglect and abuse is paramount and can be achieved through properly implemented safeguarding measure. We’ve covered some of the primary principles of safeguarding for the elderly below to help you understand the wider context and how you can help protect the elderly from abuse.

What is elderly abuse?

Elderly abuse is typically the act of attacking or taking advantage of an elderly person who may find themselves in a vulnerable position. There isn’t one, single definition of what can comprise abuse, so it’s important to keep an open mind and decide if an action you’ve witness could constitute abuse based on context. Typical examples of elderly abuse can include:

  • Discrimination, which can cover a whole range of characteristics, including race, sex or disability
  • Emotional abuse, like bullying, humiliation or creating feelings of fear and anxiety
  • Financial abuse, which can involve taking the money or precious belongs owned by an elderly person for an abuser’s personal gain
  • Modern slavery, making them take part in forced labour, slavery or human trafficking.
  • Neglect, ignoring an elderly person and their needs, actively denying them the things which would provide them safety or even ignoring their need for care
  • Organisational abuse, where an elderly person is neglected or denied care within an institution like a hospital or care home, typically by the staff
  • Physical abuse, such as being physically harmed through deliberate or careless actions
  • Sexual abuse, making them perform sexual acts which they don’t want to do.

Who can abuse the elderly?

It’s possible for anyone who comes in contact with an elder person to abuse them, but if the abuse is carried out over a longer period of time then it’s likely that the abuser is someone close to the vulnerable person. This could be a carer, employer, health or social worker, relative, or even other care home resident. Safeguarding procedures are typically in place within institutions, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to work together in order to protect the elderly from being access by potential abusers.

How can I spot elderly abuse?

One of the difficulties surrounding elderly abuse is that some of the signs might be dismissed by people as symptoms of mental health issues or becoming frail. However, if you spot anything that causes concern it’s best to still raise this with the relevant parties. Signs of elderly abuse can include:

  • Physical: unexplained injuries such as bruises, cuts or worse, broken glasses or frames, signs of being retrained, carers refusing you access to the elder person in a one-to-one context
  • Emotional: threatening or controlling behaviour from staff, concerning behaviour from the abused person such as rocking or mumbling which would be consistent with emotional distress
  • Sexual: bruising around genital areas, unexplained infections or bleeding, damaged or stained underwear
  • Neglectful: dramatic weight loss from malnourishment, untreated physical issues, dirty or unsafe living conditions, poor hygiene
  • Financial: large amounts of money withdrawn from banks accounts, items missing from house/room, unexplained changes in will or power of attorney, unnecessary subscriptions or services

What should I do if I spot elderly abuse?

 If you’re concerned about an elderly person being the potential victim of abuse, it’s crucial that you voice your issues. Talking to someone you trust, such as a friend, family member or healthcare professional, can help you decide the best course of action and raise any concerns. You can contact the local authority to report instances of abuse or neglect as safeguarding concerns. When there’s the potential for the elderly person to be in immediate danger of harm then you will need to contact the police.

Safeguarding is a shared responsibility, split between everyone who comes into contact with vulnerable people on a regular basis. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help to protect vulnerable people from abuse then take a look at our online safeguarding courses which can help you get a comprehensive understanding of safeguarding principles.

You can also check out our useful and informative downloadable resources, including this video on the six principles of safeguarding adults, and this checklist on spotting signs of adult abuse. If you work with vulnerable adults, you may find our safeguarding adults guide useful, too.