As a health care professional who is responsible for taking care of people who are elderly, whether it is in a nursing home, providing in-home care or supporting a doctor’s appointment or hospital visit, you are in a unique position to identify signs of elder abuse.
In order to spot the signs of abuse it is important to note that there are some contributing factors that make some elderly people more vulnerable to abuse than others. Older people are more at risk if they are:
- isolated or lack regular social contact,
- have a history of family conflict,
- have low self-esteem,
- have a history of mental illness,
- or are dependent on others for their care.
If you notice unexplained injuries or large delays in seeking treatment for an injury, conflicting stories or frequent requests for care, it can be a sign that something isn’t quite right. Paying attention to whether the person seems afraid of a particular person, seems worried, becomes easily upset or recoils from touch, are just a few things to look out for. You can read more about the tell-tale signs of elder abuse here.
If you suspect someone is being subjected to elder abuse by a family member, someone they know or even a nursing home abuse by a health care worker they’re being treated by, the following steps will help you to properly identify and respond to it.
Suspect elder abuse? Ask questions
In order to identify the abuse, it may be necessary to ask direct questions like ‘has anyone at home ever hurt you?’, ‘has anyone taken something of yours without your consent?’, ‘are you alone a lot?’ or ‘are you afraid of anyone?’. If the person is not ready to open up about it, formally document your concerns in case they return with a similar issue.
A discussion with a trusted carer can allow a person to feel safe to admit that there is something wrong and can help to validate their experience.
Protecting older people from further harm
Once the person has been brave enough to admit that there is something wrong, they may be feeling even more vulnerable than ever. It is crucial at this time to assess whether they’re at risk of self-harm, or further harm.
What to do if the person is in immediate danger?
If you believe that the person you are speaking with is in serious danger from themselves or others, it is your responsibility to contact the police on their behalf. You can report elder abuse with 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) – a national service that will direct you to your state or territory phone line service or social services can help to support so that you can plan for their safety.
If they are not in immediate danger, then ask for their consent to contact support services for them and begin planning a safety strategy together. Don’t forget to document this encounter including what you did and any current or past injuries that you have noticed. If they refuse help, give them the contact details of the support services available and ensure that they know that you are available to resume this discussion once they have had a think about it and take the time to follow up with them to see that they’re okay at a later date.
Is it mandatory to report abuse if you work in Aged Care?
Workers in Aged Care who witness assaults insolving "unreasonable use of force" or "unlawful sexual conduct" should report immediately to the most senior member of staff on duty. Their employer has an obligation to protect their identity if they report any abuse in nursing home or home care setting.
It is mandatory to report the incident to the police and to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission by phone or email within 24 hours. If you aren't comfortable reporting to your employer, you can go to straight to the police and the Commission.
What to do if a mentally impaired elderly person is being abused?
If you suspect that mentally impaired elderly person is being abused, you can reach out to the Office of the Public Guardian (see below for your state’s website) or the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (https://www.agedcarequality.gov.au/contact-us) or discuss your concerns with their formally appointed decision maker. It is important to note that a person’s decision making capacity must be assessed by each State’s relevant Administrative Tribunal to make this judgement.
Office of the Public Guardian in each Australian state
Shine Lawyers can help
Once the person who was being abused is safe from immediate danger they may wish to seek legal advice. Shine Lawyers experienced abuse law team have the knowhow to help survivors of abuse access the justice, acknowledgement and compensation they deserve. They can contact us to schedule a confidential appointment to discuss their legal options.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: June 3, 2020.