In the future, the problem will only get much worse unless we all start working together to stop senior abuse now.
That's the message of warning promoted by community leaders at a news conference Wednesday.
Jan Reimer, provincial co-ordinator of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters (ACWS), released a report called Abuse of Older Adults. It offers guidelines for communities to co-ordinate their resources in order to streamline a systematic response when abuse occurs.
"Nobody can do it alone," she started. "We need the collaboration and support of the community to make this happen, to end the abuse of older adults. We need to do this because the numbers are skyrocketing and we know that the time to prepare is now."
She said it's simple math that makes the future look bleak. While she admitted that much elder abuse is hidden or unreported, known incidences are rising and could easily reach epidemic proportions, especially when you consider the demographic details.
It's no secret the population, on average, is getting older. Statisticians predict that 20 per cent of Albertans will be 65 or older within the next 20 years.
"We never want to be caught in a situation where we're not able to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of our society."
Mary Anne Jablonski, Alberta's Minister of Seniors and Community Supports, concurred.
"It's the aging population. As our numbers of aging people increase, it becomes more critical that we address this so we don't have a large mass of abuse going on."
She ended on a hopeful note that with a larger proportion of seniors there would also be a greater likelihood of it being communicated more openly, "if we make it something to talk about and if we provide the tools."
The spectrum of abuse
Senior abuse is not always obvious from physical violence. There are psychological and financial dimensions or neglect and discrimination that remain unseen.
Regardless, both the ACWS and Minister Jablonski agree that the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (SAGE) has done much to lead the way in giving local seniors the support that they need, including one of the country's first seniors' shelters.
Roger Laing, SAGE's executive director, paraphrased a popular saying to amplify the central message of collaboration.
"We're all familiar with the phrase 'It takes a village to raise a child.' We take that phrase and turn it around and say, 'It takes a community to support a senior.'"
Jablonski added a new position has recently been established within her ministry to help with that philosophy. A provincial elder abuse co-ordinator position has yet to be filled but once installed, that person will take the guidelines outlined in this report and work with the communities to improve the system by building networks and strong working relationships among government departments and community stakeholders.
"This unique position will bridge policy development and service delivery, emphasizing collaborative approaches which, I think, are critical to addressing elder abuse."
Chantelle Lebrecque, the newly installed executive director at the St. Albert Senior Citizens' Club, said she hasn't read the report but believes that striving for better vigilance and faster responses is always a positive step. While she is still learning about the problem locally, she did say she believes the city has things well under control as far as co-ordinating responses to reports of abuse.
"The initiative sounds good," she began. "The RCMP … do provide fairly good services, the best that they can. It seems like more and more you hear about these stories and we don't have enough resources to expand out to everyone who needs it."
Alberta has, for years, been at the forefront of addressing the abuse of older adults and these guidelines will be essential in bridging services together so they can better address the needs of the aging population.