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Committee to build awareness about elder abuse

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 4, 2012

A new group is forming in Inuvik to raise awareness around the issue of elder abuse and the treatment of elders around the community.

"I can't speak for everyone, but for me, I would say it's a problem, but it's just having (elders) come out and say it and speak it," said Susan Ross, who volunteered to take on the tasks of striking up the committee. "They don't want to cause any harm to family members - they don't want to be a burden on anyone. So, it's remaining silent."

The idea stemmed from a series of professional development workshops held earlier this month by the Inuvik Justice Committee that were open to the public. As part of the series, a workshop on elder abuse was held Wednesday, May 16, which was co-facilitated by Inuvik elder Lillian Elias and former Inuvik resident and University of Regina social work professor Nuelle Novik.

The following day, participants hosted an elders' luncheon at Ingamo Hall where they presented their work from the previous day to the other community members.

"There were a couple of elders who stepped forward and did talk about abuse," said Ross. "And that was, you know, that was a highlight. We touched two elders and that's a starting point."

Elder abuse takes many forms - physical, emotional and financial. The latter form of abuse is the most prevalent here in Inuvik, said Ross.

The primary issue that came out of these discussions was the financial abuse of elders, said Ross.

"An example is when it's elders' pension day ... It seems like they can take in their whole family, and that's where that money seems to be going," she said.

Other major issues brought up were neglect, abandonment and emotional abuse.

However, one strength came forward through the series of open discussions about how elders are viewed and treated, and that is the strength of respect. "People were brought up to always respect their elders," said Ross. "Whether it be shovelling the steps or packing groceries."

"We see the problem as being quite pervasive in the work that we've been doing," said Barb Hood, executive director of the NWT Seniors' Society, which has been working to address the issue of elder abuse in the territory for about 12 years. "We certainly welcome this committee in Inuvik."

For example, a 2010 research survey conducted by the NWT Seniors' Society on older adult abuse found that 75 per cent of respondents from 11 communities identified elder abuse as a problem in their community.

"Often, when you talk about the abuse of older adults ... the most common abuse anywhere is financial abuse," said Hood. "But, physical abuse, psychological, emotional, neglect, sexual abuse, are all abuses that older adults suffer."

The NWT Seniors' Society avoids the term 'elder abuse' to describe this issue because it can give the impression that it's only an issue among aboriginal people, and that is not the case, said Hood.

"Older adult abuse is pervasive in all cultures and all communities, and it's worldwide," she said. "To say that one region or one community is more pervasive is not accurate."

There are other organizations that work with elders within the community of Inuvik, such as the Elders Day Program. However, the focus of the new committee will be to make people aware of the issues that affect elders, said Ross.

There is no set plans for the committee yet, though there has been talk of an elders' barbecue around Senior Citizens' Week, which will be observed in the NWT from June 10 to 16.

For now, the task at hand is to work on promoting awareness on the issue, especially focusing on getting the message to youth who may not have had the experience of spending time with elders the way young people did in the past.

"In the end, our elders, they deserve the respect and honour of having a life experience and sharing it with our youth who are able to recapture those words to carry with them and learn," said Ross.

Anyone interested in joining or helping the committee is welcome, she added. Other things community members can do to help curb problems with elder abuse is to watch for warning signs by keeping track of the elders' medication, bank accounts and unauthorized spending, and keep the communication lines open.

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