Monday, March 4, 2024

Could it be abuse?

There are obvious forms of abuse, and then there are those that we may not always be aware of. Here, we look at some actions many people might not realise are abusive.

By Liz Moore.

There’s an age-old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and so it can be with abuse. There are some actions that can be carried out with well-meaning intentions, but the reality is they constitute abuse. Thus, it’s very important we keep ourselves informed about behaviours we may not realise are, in reality, abusive.

Things such as hiding car keys from older drivers because someone in their life – be they a
loved one, carer or a friend – does not believe they are fit to drive. If a person has a driver’s licence and the right to use a car, then they are legally allowed to drive, and no other person is allowed to decide otherwise and prevent them from doing so.

The decision as to whether a person has the capacity to drive will be made by medical professionals, rather than other people in the person’s life.

“This is true even in the early stages of dementia,” said psychologist Daniela Anderson, who works with older clients at leading aged-care provider for regional, rural and remote
Australia, integratedliving.

“Just because someone has recently been diagnosed with dementia does not immediately deem them ill-fit to drive,” Ms Anderson said.

“We’re just as likely to have a bingle as they are. The doctor will tell all involved when it’s not safe to drive a car, and it might be further along than you think.

“But these people do not hide their keys because they are trying to be horrible and abusive,” Ms Anderson said.

“They may be very surprised to hear that you should not be doing that. You can understand that if someone hasn’t had a lot of exposure to people with dementia then they will think ‘well, they’ve got dementia, they can’t do this and this or this.’ So they might start to restrict things in a way that independently could be abusive, despite the intentions of protecting and taking care.”

This can also commonly take the form of physical restriction, such as locking elderly people in their bedrooms overnight, or in their homes while the carer or loved one goes out. This is another form of abuse that is regularly done with the intention of protecting the older
person from hurting themselves, but the reality is it could equally have the opposite effect – for instance, if there’s a fire or they have a fall – and is indeed abusive.

Unintended abuse can also arise due to a clash in values between family members.

“This happens a lot,” Ms Anderson said.

“You can have people who want to take over either for good intentions or because they are putting their values over the other person’s.”

This values clash is frequently seen in relation to home upkeep. While the senior home- owner may be perfectly OK with the way their house is arranged and presented, loved ones and other visitors may impose their values on the space and deem it too cluttered, unsafe or not up to their standards when it comes to presentation or aesthetics.

But what other people may think is largely a values judgment and certainly not a basis on which to decide they can change what isn’t theirs, and the person whose home it is does not want changed, cleared or moved.

“Many times it is purely a values clash between generations. The child may be more of a
minimalist and gets upset about too much clutter and things getting dusty,” Ms Anderson

“Meanwhile, the older parent wants to keep the place the way they’ve always had it. It is a form of abuse to come in and change people’s homes around against their will or
consent, or to force them to give you their consent.”

The values conflict here is especially clear when there aren’t any safety risks about the way the home is arranged. But even when there are safety risks, people are not allowed to force changes on others, no matter their relation or age difference.

“There are times when there are safety risks in an older relative’s home and the child’s concern is absolutely justified, but the person whose home it is still insists on keeping it the
way it is. If they have capacity and have made the decision to leave their home as is, then
that is their right and children or other concerned parties cannot come in and change it
without permission. That would constitute abuse if they were to.”

So, it is important to be aware of these subtler forms of elder abuse so that they can be dealt with properly before they cause too much harm. If you suspect you may be facing these or other forms of abuse, please contact the Ageing and Disability Abuse Helpline on 1800 628 221.

To hear more about elder abuse, what to look out for and how to prevent it, listen to this edition of integratedliving’s Live Well podcast: ://integratedliving.org.au/live-well-podcast/podcast-elder-abuse-in-australia-today

For more on the aged-care services that are available to you, visit integratedliving.org.au

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