Support key in helping elder abuse victim: MacPherson

Cory Hurley
Published on May 28, 2014
Margaret MacPherson speaks at the Newfoundland and Labrador Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse monthly meeting Tuesday in Deer Lake.
Star photo by Cory Hurley

“You Power” could have many contexts when it comes to elder abuse.

It’s a phrase used by Margaret MacPherson in her presentation, “It’s Not Right! Neighbours, Friends and Families for Older Adults.”

MacPherson introduced her concepts Tuesday at the Newfoundland and Labrador Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse monthly meeting held in Deer Lake. She said everything a person does has an impact on another person, even the smallest things — whether they’re good or bad.

MacPherson spoke to a small group of seniors and representatives of organizations that deal with elder abuse.

“This is one of the things we have to change in the world, is our understandings about ourselves as being powerful people in the world,” she said. “Many people just don’t know it.”

Everybody has a right to be safe and free form neglect, MacPherson said, and it is a shared responsibility to make sure that is the case.

To get to that stage, it is important people are able to recognize the warning signs of abuse. After that, comes the knowledge of how to respond.

Elder abuse takes many forms. Physical may be the most obvious, but it also includes emotional, financial and sexual abuse and neglect. Controlling behaviour, isolation, changes of behaviour, blame, entitlement and arguments can be just some of the signs.

Ageism — discrimination against older people (as well as younger people) — can be a common form of emotional abuse. MacPherson said this is a type of abuse that shows that offenders cannot always be simply categorized as bad people. Sometimes it can be something that everybody can be guilty of, whether deliberate or not.

There are a couple of major concerns with respect to societal norms and elder abuse, says the research associate with the University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women.

Many people see abuse as only physical or verbal, not recognizing such things as controlling or entitlement. Also, society has come to accept such behaviour or believe it’s not their business — something of particular concern pertaining to the new provincial Adult Protection Act, which is expected to contain legal obligations for people to report suspected abuse.

MacPherson said it is important for people interjecting upon a potential abusive situation to be supportive. Opening a door to communication is significant, and allowing the victim to respond in their way is often sufficient.

“You don’t have to be a hero,” she said. “It’s not up to you to fix someone else’s life.”

It is not always about the victims either, she said. People who are being abusive also need help. If the intervention is early enough, it can become prevention.

Sometimes, it is worse to strictly let the judicial system deal with abusive situations, said MacPherson, because it often doesn’t stop the continuum of abuse.