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Elder Abuse and Neglect in Canada

By Kimberly FowlerNovember 30, 2017
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We all like to think it could never happen to someone we love, but unfortunately elder abuse is more common than most of us realize. In 2016, City News reported that “more than three-quarters of a million Canadian seniors suffered some form of abuse last year. That is more than double since a similar study was done back in 1989.”

The seniors we love have spent their life protecting us, and now it’s time for us to do the same. It’s crucial that caregivers, family members and seniors themselves know the warning signs and how to act proactively when elder abuse is suspected.

Elder Abuse Takes Many Forms

In its most visceral form, elder abuse is physical violence like hitting, but this is just one specific form. According to the Department of Justice, ‘abuse’ refers to “harm done to anyone by a person in a position of trust or authority.” Harm, in this definition, is not limited to physical harm, it also includes sexual abuse as well as “psychological abuse, financial abuse, neglect or any combination thereof.”

In fact, psychological abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada, followed by financial abuse.

“A study found adult children or grandchildren are responsible for 37% of financial abuse while 10% of financial abuse is committed by a stranger,” City News reports. However, financial and psychological abuse are just two of the many different forms of elder abuse.

The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly in Toronto (ACE) defines:

  • Financial abuse as “stealing, fraud, extortion and misusing a power of attorney”;
  • Mental abuse as “treating an older person like a child or humiliating, insulting, frightening, threatening or ignoring an older person”
  • Neglect as “failing to give an older person in your care food, medical attention, or other necessary care, or abandoning an older person in your care”
  • Physical abuse as “slapping, pushing, beating or forced confinement”;
  • Sexual abuse as “sexual assault or any unwanted form of sexual activity”;

The RCMP adds three more definitions:

  1. Institutional abuse occurs when “a facility’s policies may be inappropriate for meeting an elderly person’s needs. Some institutions may operate to meet a personal or financial goal that conflicts with meeting residents’ health and environmental needs.”
  2. Spiritual abuse occurs when a person is denied their right to practice their religion, customs, or traditions. To a deeply spiritual person this can be as painful as any physical abuse.
  3. Violation of rights occurs when a person is denied their right to privacy, or access to the resources to which they are entitled. This can even include forced confinement.

It may seem straightforward, but different definitions of elder abuse exist across Canada. Some organizations consider every act of violence or deliberate harm against an elderly person to be elder abuse. Others require that the person who inflicts the harm must have a special relationship with the victim.

For example, ACE defines elder abuse as being inflicted by “someone in a special relationship to the older person” which might include “a spouse, a family member, a paid caregiver, a staff member at a long-term care facility or care/retirement home, etc.”

The Government of Manitoba takes this concept even further defining “any action or lack of action by someone in a position of trust that harms the health or well-being of an older person” as elder abuse. Their definition of ‘a position of trust’ can apply to anyone who has a personal relationship with the victim, regularly interacts with them, and anyone in a facility where such a level of trust would be expected such as a hospital or retirement community.

Signs of Elder Abuse

The RCMP advises that “the strongest indicator that an elderly person is being abused is that he or she will tell someone.” If a loved one brings up possible abuse then it’s critical that you take them seriously. They may not use the words “abuse” but if they describe any of the forms of abuse mentioned above, such as neglect, being threatened, theft, etc… then you should either investigate further or contact your local authorities.

Keep in mind there are many different types of elder abuse and therefore many different warning signs to look out for.

However, not every senior will speak up. It’s important to be aware of some of the warning signs of abuse, including:

  • Financial abuse: Unexplained withdrawals and charges, a sudden change in financial status, strange financial behaviour (possibly done willfully by the victim due to manipulation, emotional abuse, threats, fraud or coercion).
  • Neglect: Poor hygiene, open sores, unkempt appearance, missing medical equipment (including dentures, hearing aids, walkers, etc…) and dirty living conditions (including bedbugs and uncleaned messes).
  • Physical abuse: Unexplained injuries such as fractures, scratches, bruises, cuts and bondage marks (from being physically restrained).
  • Psychological/emotional abuse: Changes in behaviour like being emotionally upset or agitated, withdrawn or unresponsive. These feelings are sometimes exhibited physically through sucking, biting, and rocking.
  • Sexual abuse: STDs, bloody or damaged underwear, injuries to genitals.

Often the people who will recognize these signs include family, friends, financial advisors and others who regularly interact with the victim. Unfortunately, these people are also the ones most likely to commit abuse.

Ways Elder Abuse Impacts Seniors

According to the RCMP, some of the consequences of elder abuse are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Over or under medication
  • Poverty
  • Other financial, medical or psychological issues

In some cases, elder abuse can even result in death, malnourishment or serious injuries.

The best way to fight back against elder abuse is to know the different types of abuse and their warning signs. Remember to ask questions and look out for vulnerable seniors.

If you are concerned about a senior in your community, don’t hesitate to reach out to the authorities for help.

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Have you seen the effects of elder abuse? What other warning signs should you keep an eye out for? We’d like to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments below.

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Kimberly Fowler