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Elder Abuse Awareness Day highlights local resources

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Canada’s fastest growing population is over the age of 65 and is quickly becoming vulnerable to abuse that can rob them of their well-being and dignity, according to the Alberta Elder Abuse Awareness Council.

Kari, who lives in Hinton, believes her adult children never disrespected her, never insulted her, and never argued with her, but she knows they were taking advantage of her.

Kari’s name has been changed to protect her and her family’s privacy.

She first spoke to someone about the difficult situation she found herself living in after reading something in the newspaper about the elder abuse prevention program being offered by Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) in Hinton.

One adult child moved in with her a few years ago, while another child has been in and out of her house continuously.

“I was really uncomfortable and wondering how long I would be taking care of my kids. It was preventing me from having my own life,” Kari explained.

While she no longer wanted to take care of them, she also cared enough about them to not turn them away, especially to avoid leaving them homeless.

Since connecting with Charlene Sitar, the elder abuse prevention coordinator at FCSS, she feels more at ease and understood.

She felt Sitar had a better understanding of her situation and how everyone’s situation is different. Prior to meeting with Sitar she said her friends and family told her to kick out her adult kids, which wasn’t something she could do.

“Some parents don’t care. Some parents care until the end. When you tell a parent to kick them out, you’re actually kicking that parent out because you’re offering nothing,” Kari said.

While there’s many different ways to be abused, Kari felt like she was simply being taken advantage of and desired to have her own life.

With one child still living in her house, she still doesn’t feel like she has her own life completely.

Kari continues to connect with Sitar on a weekly basis for support, which is extremely helpful. She believes it’s important to have this program regionally as it’s not possible for some seniors to access resources in the city or explain their situation over the phone.

She said, it’s important to talk to someone in person and see the pain in their eyes.

“I have so much to say about this, I have so much that I want to say, and to bring forward that it’s essential. It’s so important and then to not have the funds to support this kind of a program. I don’t get it, it’s essential,” Kari said.

On June 15 every year since 2006, organizations and supporters raise awareness on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day about what elder abuse is and what resources are available. Typically, Sitar organizes information presentations, but that’s not possible this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Sitar said with mistreatment of older adults within care facilities being a topic of conversation right now, it is a good opportunity to continue the conversation with locals about elder abuse in our region.

“COVID has certainly opened up the topic of conversation more and in a sense COVID has brought more awareness to the needs of the elderly,” Sitar said.

Loneliness, isolation, and elder abuse was there prior to COVID-19 but the pandemic has provided an opportunity for broader conversation on these topics and how elders are generally viewed.

“Elder abuse, loneliness and isolation will still be there but hopefully we will have been able to find better strategies within our communities to deal with those kinds of things going forward,” Sitar said.

Presentations on these topics were done in the past during seniors week, but seniors week was cancelled as well.

Randy Smith, services for individuals and families at FCSS, said the turnout for each event during seniors week is normally very large, making it difficult to do anything during these trying times.

“I was very sad when I had to make the decision as I know how much the seniors look forward to a jammed packed week of events,” Smith said.

Staff had at least 34 events planned, which were all cancelled. Instead, FCSS offered a Wellness Kit for any Senior that wanted one, they just had to phone the FCSS office to put in an order, which was delivered by Protective Service.

“We included water bottles, a variety of different snacks and games and some information on FCSS programs such as Home Support, Lifeline, Elder Abuse and our Friendly Caller Program,” Smith said, adding that some items donated by local organizations as well.

Sitar said it was a way to continue showing appreciation for seniors and providing them with information and resources on what’s available in the community and how to reach out for support.

Over the past few months, Sitar has seen a combination of older adults reach out who have previously been in situations of mistreatment and some new referrals to the elder abuse prevention program.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the increase in new numbers yet, I think that could potentially come as the COVID response settles down,” Sitar added.

She said experts predict a rise in elder abuse cases everywhere as the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic starts to be exposed a bit more. 

In some cases, adult children have come back home because of COVID-19 and elderly parents want to help, Sitar added.

“That’s fine but there’s a difference between helping and being taken advantage of. It’s been very eye-opening for sure,” Sitar said.

Sitar has been reaching out to seniors and caregivers in the community by phone to offer some verbal support since they’ve been forced to stay at home during the pandemic.

“There are people caring for a parent or spouse with some type of dementia and it can be quite straining. We want to watch for caregiver burnout,” Sitar added.

Over the past year Sitar has witnessed seniors becoming more comfortable reaching out for help. Some don’t say who they are but only explain their situation to ask for advice on how to fix the issue on their own.

“They’re recognizing when their situation might not be in their best interest and they are knowing that there is a program and a system to help them, there’s a far higher comfort level just to initiate conversation about what they’re experiencing or what they’re seeing,” Sitar said.

This is occurring throughout the region, in Yellowhead County as well as Hinton.

The Yellowhead Elder Abuse Network that Sitar has worked hard to build is now seen as a provincial example of how a coordinated response model should work in rural alberta, she added.

“We’ve made it a program that is effective, that provides an effective and least intrusive response to seniors who are experiencing mistreatment,” she said.

She added that the program wouldn’t be at this point if it wasn’t for the commitment and partnership of the Town of Hinton and Yellowhead County. To help out, any community member can join the friendly caller program, call FCSS for more information.

Sitar added that if residents suspect someone in the community is experiencing mistreatment, they can have a conversation with them as long as it’s safe to do so and ask them if they need some support and share what resources are available.

The senior or third-party reporter can also call 211 and share what they’re seeing and why they’re concerned.

“The best thing we can do for the elderly in our community who are living in our neighbourhoods is just to make them feel like we care and make them a priority in our life,” Sitar said.