Large increase in reports of abuse of vulnerable adults and the elderly

Older women are particularly at risk, according to safeguarding body

More than 70 per cent (7,199) of the complaints resulted from suspected incidents in services, such as care homes or nursing homes. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

More than 70 per cent (7,199) of the complaints resulted from suspected incidents in services, such as care homes or nursing homes. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

 

Reports of abuse of elderly people and vulnerable adults increased by more than one-quarter last year according to the HSE’s National Safeguarding Office (NSO).

The NSO examined 10,118 complaints of abuse in 2017, including physical, psychological and sexual abuse, an increase of 28 per cent from the 2016 figure.

In its annual report, the office attributed the increase to more designated officers assigned to receive complaints, an increase in public awareness of the office’s work and new guidelines that require services to implement stricter screening and safeguarding procedures.

The office is responsible for investigating complaints of abuse of vulnerable adults, such as those in care homes, and anyone over 65. It is only the second year data on safeguarding complaints has been released.

Of the complaints received, 50 per cent showed “reasonable grounds” for concern and further action. Twenty per cent required additional information, with the remainder being dismissed.

For vulnerable adults under the age of 65, 46 per cent of the complaints related to physical abuse, 29 per cent related to psychological abuse and 11 per cent to sexual abuse.

Psychological abuse

For adults over 65 psychological abuse was the most common complaint (31 per cent) followed by financial and physical abuse (both 22 per cent).

The figures show women are much more likely to be the subject of abuse as they age, a finding in line with international research.

Complaints relating to vulnerable adults under 65 years of age are broadly similar for males (51 per cent) and females (49 per cent). But of those relating to the elderly, over two-thirds relate to women.

Financial abuse becomes significantly more common as people grow older. Of people aged over 80 who were the subject of concern, one-quarter of the complaints related to financial abuse. Of vulnerable adults aged under 65 this figures was 6 per cent.

More than 70 per cent (7,199) of the complaints resulted from suspected incidents in services, such as care homes or nursing homes. The remainder concerned suspected incidents in the community.

For those aged under 65 other service users were the main category of people suspected of carrying out the abuse. For those over 65 their children were the main category of suspected abuser.

Financial abuse

This trend was particularly prevalent with financial abuse, where children were the main suspects in 40 per cent of cases.

International research indicates reported incidents of elder abuse represent only “the tip of the iceberg”, the NSO notes.

“The impact of the abuse cannot be underestimated, with research within elder abuse showing that victims are twice more likely to die prematurely than people who are not victims.”

The office said it operates a “zero tolerance” approach to abuse. The majority of complaints are “one-off” (79 per cent), with 2 per cent falling into the “high-level repeat referrals”.

The office’s report was launched on Thursday at an event hosted by the National Centre for the Protection of Older People at UCD to coincide with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Friday.

The Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) also launched a special guide at the same event. The guide is aimed at helping people to recognise and prevent financial abuse, which it said was a significant problem in Ireland.

The BPFI’s publication is called the Guide to Safeguarding your Money Now and in the Future.

Published on behalf of AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB, Ulster Bank and KBC, the guide provides tips and advice for people to prepare for a time when they may need assistance to manage their money. The guide will be available online and in bank branches.

Louise O’Mahony, head of sustainable banking with BPFI, said financial abuse was a significant problem and it was important to remember it did not just affect older people.

She cited cases where people with joint accounts had had all their money taken by the person sharing the account.