Schools Training

PSW Program, First Line of Defence Against Elder Abuse

5 MAR 2012
Career Path : Healthcare

“Elder abuse should be everyone’s concern,” says Alice Wong, the Canadian minister of state for seniors, on her MP website. But perhaps it should concern some more than others. The graduates of a personal support worker (PSW) program who assist seniors in the tasks of daily living are uniquely well placed to identify early signs of neglect and abuse.

Elder abuse: a growing concern

News last winter that an elderly Toronto woman with dementia was found living in an uninsulated garage without running water sparked countrywide concerns about elder abuse. The issue now regularly makes it to the front page news, and most home-care workers learn about it in PSW courses. Toronto-based group Advocacy Centre for the Elderly estimates that “six to eight per cent of the older population are victims of abuse in Canada.”

What is elder abuse?

According to the ministry of state for seniors, elder abuse can take four forms, which should be familiar to anyone who has completed PSW courses (Toronto-based senior advocacy group CARP also has a good series of posts on its website explaining the phenomenon.):

-       physical or sexual

-       emotional or psychological

-       financial

-       failure to provide adequate care (neglect)

The ministry’s website has a video of scenarios that unfortunately may be all too familiar to graduates of any PSW program:

-       an elderly couple is arguing

-       an elderly woman arguing with her adult son

-       a young man taking money from his grandmother’s wallet

As this video suggests – and as most graduates of a PSW program already know – the most frequent perpetrators of elder abuse are members of the victim’s intimate circle, i.e., children, grandchildren, spouses or exes.

That is why the typical PSW program focuses on both:

-       medical know-how

-       interpersonal relations

In a PSW program, students get valuable information on:

-       how to interact with family members

-       how to assess your patients’ needs

-       when to call the authorities with concerns about possible neglect or abuse

Senior rights advocate Karen Anderson says in an interview with the Lindsay Post that seniors shouldn’t “depend on just one person to provide… care.” The involvement of a graduate of a PSW program can help decrease the risk of isolation.

Some have argued for a move towards more emphasis on the human rather than medical aspect of the caring relationship in PSW program curriculum. Toronto’s Ryerson University submitted a report to Human Resources Development Canada on this topic in 2004.

As our population continues to grey, protecting our seniors from abuse and neglect is expected to become an even bigger concern. Those currently enrolled in a PSW program need to be learning how to protect the vulnerable citizens of tomorrow.