‘The abuse and neglect of older people remains a largely hidden issue, which leaves hundreds of thousands of older people experiencing, or at risk of, avoidable harm’ [1]. There are now nearly 12 million people aged 65 or over in the UK with the average age of the UK population rising [1]. 

Emily McCarron, Policy Manager for Equality and Human Rights, Age UK & Amy McLeod, Head of Safeguarding, Age UK, spoke at our Adult Safeguarding Conference September 2020 about the increase in older adults safeguarding issues [2]. 

The Most Common Forms of Abuse for Older Adults 

Age UK reported that ‘63% of adult safeguarding concerns are for people aged over 65’ [3] with the likelihood of being at risk of abuse or neglect increasing with age [2].  

“As we age, we are more likely to experience ill health and need to rely on people for support, therefore we become more vulnerable,” Indeed, the most common location of risk is in the persons own home (44.8%).  Furthermore, the most common source of risk is someone known to the individual (48%). This makes safeguarding more complex [2]. 

Emily and Amy’s shared with us the two most common forms of abuse for older adults; financial and domestic abuse. 

  1. Financial abuse 

Over 5 million older people believe they have been targeted by fraudsters, yet despite these high numbers, there are many who don’t realise they’ve been a victim of financial abuse or are too embarrassed to admit it. 

Amy told us that “even when individuals can see they are being taken advantage of they are often very reluctant to report it” [2]. This is often because financial fraud is through “date or mate crime”. This is when an individual is financially exploited by someone that they believe they have a romantic connection with or who is a friend [2]. Indeed, the most frequent source of risk is an adult child, but there are also reports of partners, carers, friends and tenants [2]. 

  1. Domestic Abuse  

Often when we think of domestic abuse victims, we do not envisage older people. However, 139,500 women and 74,300 men aged 60-74 experienced domestic Abuse during 2017/18 with 1 in 4 victims of domestic homicide aged over 60 [2].  

Emily and Amy both maintained that “we must begin to challenge our unconscious biases of what a domestic abuse victim is. With older people equally likely to be killed by a partner (46%), as they are their adult child or grandchild (44%), they are at greater risk” [2].  

What barriers prevent older adults accessing support? 

Amy and Emily ran us through frequent obstacles [2]: 

  • Identification, it is common that the person experiencing abuse often doesn’t identify what they’re experiencing as abuse 
  • The abuser is someone they care for/have a relationship with, often the victim does not want to compromise this relationship 
  • They have faced a lifetime of abuse 
  • They don’t think that anyone can help them  
  • Isolated – they don’t know how to access support 
  • They have long-term health needs/disability and are reliant on the abuser for care or money 
  • Gender – Emily and Amy told us that older men are not of a generation that feels they can speak up and ask for help 

Solution – What can we do? 

Social care supports a person’s right to live independently in the community. Emily and Amy argued that “these supports can change dependency structures, allowing for healthier safer relationships”. However, the pandemic has laid bare the systemic inadequacies of the care system, often a person is not facilitated to live their most independent life. Consequently, Age UK is calling for a comprehensive funding package for social care that meets the needs of older people and informal carers [2].   

Firstly, it is important that data on domestic abuse is gathered for all ages, not just people aged 74 and under. Amy said, “if we don’t know how many old people victims of abuse are then we don’t know what services we need to provide”. The Office for National Statistics has listened and from January 2021 began collecting data on those aged 75+ [1]. These statistics will show us areas to focus safeguarding interventions [2].  

Secondly, due to the barriers older people have in seeking help, GPs and other health staff play an important role in identifying victims of abuse. Emily argued “there should be training for health care practitioners, including GPs and practice nurses, who work with older people, to recognise and support older people who may be victims of abuse” [2].  This will increase the identification of hidden issues like domestic abuse [1]. 

Finally, we need to challenge our unconscious bias of what a domestic abuse victim is. Emily stresses the need to acknowledge the diverse identities of older people experiencing abuse: 

“Older people are not a homogenous group of people, their gender, ethnicity, sexual identity and disability will shape their experiences of domestic abuse and how services need to respond” [2].  

She continued, arguing that for this reason, there needs to be a better collection of data and information to advise how we support older people experiencing domestic abuse [2]. 

Age UK has produced a Safeguarding Factsheet. This factsheet explains the law on safeguarding adults to help you decide what to do if you think an older person is being abused or neglected [3]. 

Sources:

[1] Age UK. 2018. Adult Safeguarding Policy Position Paper. [Accessed 2 February 2021] 

[2] The Adult Safeguarding Conference 2020 

[3] Age UK. 2020. Safeguarding older people from abuse and neglect. [Accessed 2 February 2021] 

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The abuse and neglect of older people remains a largely hidden issue, which leaves hundreds of thousands of older people experiencing, or at risk of, avoidable harm. There are now nearly 12 million people aged 65 or over in the UK with the average age of the UK population rising.

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