What to do if you have experienced elder abuse

What is Elder Abuse?

Not all senior citizens are vulnerable to abuse. Those who still manage their own money, make their own decisions, are able look after themselves and have a wide social network of friends and family are much less likely to suffer abuse, however the likelihood of abuse happening cannot be ruled out altogether.

Family members in particular can put pressure on elderly relatives to make decisions which otherwise they wouldn’t make. Often this is around the use or disposal of money or possessions though their wills, Power of Attorney or in an attempt to avoid inheritance tax or paying for care.  This is financial abuse. It is also financial abuse to take money or possessions without permission.

Verbal abuse includes someone you should be able to trust being rude to you, being verbally aggressive, shouting or humiliating you. This can be very distressing and can have serious consequences for the person being abused

Denying someone their basic needs is abuse and neglect. This can include not providing toilet facilities when they are asked for, not helping someone to eat if they need help, not providing enough continence supplies, leaving someone wet or soiled or not seeking medical help when it is needed. Not providing seniors with the opportunity for social contact and pleasurable activities is also neglect

Emotional or psychological abuse can include persistently ignoring someone or bullying, threatening, intimidating or insulting someone. It is also abuse to deprive an individual of their right to choice of when to eat, get up or go to bed, what to wear or how they want to be addressed.

Sexual abuse is the form of abuse which is least likely to be talked about but it does happen to senior citizens. Any unwanted sexual contact or innuendo or verbal suggestion is unacceptable whatever your age or gender.

As well as physically striking an individual, physical abuse can also include the inappropriate use of restraints, over medication, force-feeding, washing someone with cold water or handling someone roughly when lifting or moving them

Abuse can also come in the form of bogus callers or workmen who target vulnerable seniors. They use false reasons for getting into the house to steal or to obtain money or goods by deception.

What you can do if you have experienced abuse
Abuse can happen to people of any age. If you are being abused, you need to know you are not to blame for the violence or the threats, you do not deserve to be abused and  you have a right to live without fear. You also have the right to a safe, healthy relationship and to have control over your own life. It is very unlikely that you will be able to control the abuser’s behaviour and abuse does often gets worse over time.

Talk to someone. This can be anyone you trust. Sometimes just talking about the abuse can help you decide what you can do about it.

Talk to the person who is abusing you or get someone to speak to them on your behalf. Make it clear that the way they are treating you is not acceptable and that you want it to stop. Sometimes family members or others who are close to you don’t realise you are unhappy unless you tell them.

Tell someone who can make a difference. This could be the police who may investigate if the abuse is criminal, or social work who can arrange for additional services to make you less dependent on the person who is abusing you. If you have to see your GP or another health worker as the result of abuse then tell him or her the real reason – don’t try to cover it up

Take legal advice. If money or property is involved and you need to either take legal action or if you need to untangle some legal arrangement, you have been coerced into. It may be possible to get legal aid for this.

If you are not yet ready to seek help that is your choice – it is okay.  But you may still want some information in case you decide to do something about the abuse later.  Information gives you personal choice and personal power.

What you can do if you suspect someone else is being abused
Tell someone. Usually people are cautious about getting involved in other people’s lives.  However, many abuse victims are unable to get help for themselves and therefore rely on others around them to raise concerns. You can speak to your community police officer, local social work office, your church, community nurse or someone else you feel comfortable with. Tell them why you are concerned – you don’t have to make any allegations.

Where to get help
There are a number of agencies you can turn to for advice or practical help.

The Scottish Helpline for Older People
O845 125 9732
The Helpline can provide information about a wide range of matters which concern older adults

Office of Public Guardian
01324 678300   
The Office of Public Guardian can provide advice or get involved if there are concerns about someone who is unable to manage their money or when a Power of Attorney is not being managed properly

Social Work
Local telephone directory will have details of local offices
Social work can assess your need for extra help and arrange for you to get this. This could include personal care, help with meals or shopping, housing or other accommodation. Social work will also respond when an older adult is being abused

Local telephone directory will have details of local stations ; in an emergency dial 999
Most abuse is criminal and the police are able to respond sensitively to reports of abuse.

Alzheimer’s Scotland
080 8808 3000 
This Helpline can provide advice and support to people who have dementia, family members or anyone who is caring for someone who has dementia.

Women’s Aid
0800 027 1234   
Abuse by partners is called domestic abuse and this Helpline can help women access local advice and support. Local shelters for women experiencing abuse may also be available

0845 7909090
People who have experienced abuse, and those who have abused, often find it helpful to talk to a supportive listener. Samaritans are available 24 hrs per day for people who are distressed and need someone to talk to.

Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care 
0845 6030890
This agency which is often referred to as the Care Commission has responsibility for inspecting care establishments and registered care services. You can report anonymously to the Care Commission although it does help with follow up if they have contact details.

Victim Support                                                   
0845 6039213
Victim Support  has local services throughout Scotland which can offer help and advice to people who have been victims of crime.

Local telephone directory will have details of local servcies or contact 0131 455 8183  for local contact details
Sometimes the interests of the person who has experienced abuse can be overlooked, if they are unable to  speak out for themselves. Advocacy services can help support an  individual older person  and ensure their wishes are central to the process of resolving the abusive situation.

Are You a Worker Who is Concerned About Abuse?


What to do if you have a concern

Although the majority of care services provide excellent care and support,  abuse can and does happen. This can be in residential care settings, supported or sheltered accommodation and in a person’s own home. Abuse can be perpetrated by family members, informal carers, paid health and social care workers and others who are involved in the life of an older person who may be vulnerable.

It is important that if you have a concern about the safety or welfare of an older person, you do something. You may be the only person who has suspicion or is in a position to help. Remember, however it is not your responsibility to solve the problem alone.

There are a number of ways you can help and various agencies you can contact for assistance or advice.

First Steps

  • If the person you are worried about is in immediate danger you should call 999 for the police of ambulance
  • Consult your agency’s abuse procedures
  • Report your concerns to your manager. If the concern is about your manager, report to their manager.
  • Don’t promise confidentiality
  • If abuse is disclosed to you by the person who has been abused record what they say, in their own words.
  • Don’t prompt or ask leading questions
  • Don’t try to investigate
  • Provide comfort and support
  • Don’t make judgements or jump to conclusions
  • If the concern is not then investigated you can report to a higher level or to an outside agency. If you feel you need to do this take advice on making a protected disclosure. Your Trade Union or an organisation called Public Concern at Work can advise you.

The Role of Different Agencies

  • The Police will investigate allegations or suspicions of a crime
  • The Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care will respond to concerns about abuse in any registered care setting or by a  registered care service. You do not have to give your name when reporting to the Care Commission although it helps an investigation if the caller’s details are known. 
  • Social Work has specific responsibility if the person being abused does not have full mental capacity, or if they are an existing client, or if they live in their own home. In most circumstances, Social Work will also have a lead safeguarding role which will involve assessment and, if required, the provision of services.
  • The Office of Public Guardian has a responsibility where there is an abuse of Power of Attorney  
  • The Mental Welfare Commission has a role when someone who does not have mental capacity is abused.
  • Advocacy Services can ensure the person who has been abused has a voice in any investigation or response. This will be independent of any service provider