DR Zakariya Waqar-Uddin talks to us about the worrying increase in 'elder abuse'.

THERE is a line from a well know stand-up comedy sketch which reads, “old people, you can’t beat ‘em… pity”. Yet elder abuse is no laughing matter.

It is defined as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distressed to an older person”.

In this context an older person is anyone over the age of 60. World Health Organisation statistics show that in the last year 1 in 6 older persons living in the community experienced some form of abuse. Shockingly two thirds of carers in nursing homes admitted to committing an act of abuse in same 12-month period.

The numbers of elderly suffering abuse will automatically rise, due to virtue of having an ageing population. By 2050 the number of adults over 60 is estimated to double. In addition, pressures such as the Covid pandemic have also seen the rates of elder abuse increase.

Described as hidden shame, statistics on elder abuse are woefully lacking. This may be due to a lack of understanding of what constitutes abuse, as well as gross under reporting.

Elder abuse can be divided into the same categories as abuse of any individual. While physical violence may be the first thing that springs to mind when the word abuse is mentioned, psychological and financial abuse are the most common forms.

This may come as a surprise, but 70 percent of the UK’s wealth is owned by individuals over the age of 50.

With a population living longer, some adult children are increasingly frustrated at having to wait for what they perceive to be rightfully theirs. According to the firm KPMG, 72 percent of familial fraud was perpetrated by adults over the age of 45.

Abuse can happen to any older person. Risk factors include social isolation, poor physical and mental health, and a dependence on others to assist with activities of daily living. There is often a lack of understanding as to what constitutes abuse. In many cases the perpetrator is in a position of significant trust, from a carer to a child, and even a spouse.

Newly recognised forms of abuse include coercive online romances, engineered for the sake of financial gain, as well as inappropriate use of legal privileges, such as Lasting Power of Attorney.

It can be difficult to spot an abused older person. They often won’t be battered and bruised. Often the perpetrator will try to isolate the individual, so that the abused person’s ability to highlight their situation is limited.

Signs of abuse may include social withdrawal, heightened anxiety, or reluctance to discuss anything that might indicate a problem. This is often due to fear of repercussions, worry that the abuser may withdraw their support in a caring role, or heartbreakingly, shame.

The older person may struggle financially when previously the appeared comfortable. They may go without food, stop heating their house, or suddenly be unable to pay bills. Possessions may inexplicably disappear.

Sometimes it may be not that obvious and all that a third party has is a sense that something is not quite right.

The ramifications of elder abuse are significant, irrespective of what form this occurs in. They include worsening mental and physical health, cognitive decline, and often a need to be placed in care.

If an older person confides in you that they are being abused, a good approach to adopt is similar to that if a young person reveals something of concern.

It will have often taken them great courage to even broach the subject. It should be handled in a sensitive, non-judgemental manner. You should neither seek to judge them or the abuser, nor dismiss the issue.

It is important not to promise to keep it a secret if significant abuse is revealed to you. It is worth bearing in mind that many acts of elder abuse now constitute a criminal offence.

Elder abuse can be disclosed to either a social worker, the patient’s general practitioner, or the police.

If the abuse is significant then the victim may be temporarily needed to be taken into a supported environment until measures are put in place.

If elder abuse is spotted early, victims can make a full recovery.

Key messages are that it does occur, that it is totally unacceptable, and also that help is always available.

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on newsdesk@nne.co.uk or contact 01325 505054