THERE is a line from a well know stand-up comedy sketch which reads 'old people, you can’t beat ‘em… pity'. Yet elder abuse is no laughing matter.

It is defined as 'a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distressed to an older person'.

World Health Organisation statistics show that in the last year one in six older people living in the community experienced some form of abuse. Shockingly two thirds of carers in nursing homes admitted to committing an act of abuse in the same 12-month period.

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While physical violence may be the first thing that springs to mind when the word abuse is mentioned, psychological and financial abuse are the most common forms.

In many cases the perpetrator is in a position of significant trust, from a carer to a child, and even a spouse.

Newly recognised forms of abuse include coercive online romances, engineered for the sake of financial gain, as well as inappropriate use of legal privileges, such as Lasting Power of Attorney.

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It can be difficult to spot an abused older person. They often won’t be battered and bruised. Often the perpetrator will try to isolate the individual, so that the abused person’s ability to highlight their situation is limited.

Signs of abuse may include social withdrawal, heightened anxiety, or reluctance to discuss anything that might indicate a problem. This is often due to fear of repercussions, worry that the abuser may withdraw their support in a caring role, or heartbreakingly shame.

The older person may struggle financially when previously the appeared comfortable. They may go without food, stop heating their house, or suddenly be unable to pay bills. Possessions may inexplicably disappear.

Sometimes it may be not that obvious and all that a third party has is a sense that something is not quite right.

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The ramifications of elder abuse are significant. They include worsening mental and physical health, cognitive decline, and often a need to be placed in care.

Any information on elder abuse should be handled in a sensitive, non-judgemental manner. You should neither seek to judge them or the abuser, nor dismiss the issue.

It is important not to promise to keep it a secret if significant abuse is revealed to you. It is worth bearing in mind that many acts of elder abuse now constitute a criminal offence.

Elder abuse can be disclosed to either a social worker, the patient’s general practitioner, or the police.

If elder abuse is spotted early, victims can recover. It does occur, it is totally unacceptable, and help is available.