What is abuse?

Abuse is when someone causes us harm or distress. It may be a single or repeated act or it could be a failure to take appropriate action.

There are five common types of abuse:

  • financial – for example, someone taking your money or valuables without your permission, or pressurising you to change your will or to spend your money in a way you don’t want to
  • physical – including hitting or slapping you, not giving you the right medication, restraining you in an inappropriate way, making a room too hot or cold
  • psychological – this could involve someone calling you names, threatening you, humiliating, blaming or controlling you
  • sexual – touching or looking at you inappropriately, assaulting you or making you undress or look at sexual images
  • neglect – when a carer fails to meet your basic needs so you are hungry, in pain or cold

People responsible for abuse are often taking advantage of a special relationship. It could be a friend or family member or a paid carer. Sometimes abuse happens because the person doesn’t have the right skills for looking after you. Whatever the situation, it is never acceptable. You don’t have to put up with it and it isn’t your fault.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can be at risk of abuse. It is no reflection on your intelligence, strength or worth.  It can happen anywhere – at home, in a hospital or care home, or a public place.

Some people may be more vulnerable, for example if you:

  • are isolated and have little contact with family or friends
  • have memory problems or difficulty communicating
  • don’t get on with your carer
  • misuse drugs or alcohol or have a carer who misuses them

How to get help

If you are experiencing any form of abuse it is important to speak out to stop it. You could start by talking to your family or friends you trust or speak to your GP, social worker or local social services.

Your local authority might have a dedicated team for reporting concerns about abuse or neglect. This might be called a safeguarding team. You can also contact your local council’s adult social care team.

For confidential advice on reporting abuse, contact the Action on Elder Abuse helpline 0808 808 8141.

If you think a crime has been committed, you can report it to your local police by calling 101.

If you have been physically hurt or in an emergency, call 999 for the police or an ambulance.

What happens next?

If you report abuse to your adult social care team, a social worker will investigate and then discuss ways to resolve the situation. If you are still at risk of abuse they will start a safeguarding enquiry, which could be a conversation or a more formal course of action involving other agencies.

Your wishes should be taken into account at all stages and a plan of action recorded on your care plan, stating:

  • how you will be kept safe in future
  • any support, treatment or help you will be given
  • any changes needed to the care you receive
  • how you will be supported if you take action to seek justice

If a crime has been committed or in more serious cases, the police may be involved.

How to protect yourself

It’s important to know that someone you trust will make decisions on your behalf if there comes a time when you are unable to do so.

You could set up a lasting power of attorney, which is a legal document that gives someone you trust the right to make decisions about your money and property and/or your health and welfare. You must be able to trust your attorney completely.

You can also set up an advance decision, which is a way to refuse certain types of treatment or care if there comes a time when you lose mental capacity. It is legally binding and must be followed by the healthcare professionals who are looking after you.

Next steps

You will find contact details for your local council on gov.uk/find-your-local-council.

For confidential advice on reporting abuse, contact Action on Elder Abuse.

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