Elder abuse

Elder abuse is often defined as any act or lack of action, within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust that harms a senior and causes them distress or risks their health or welfare.

Elder abuse can:

  • take place in the home, other residential settings or in the community
  • be caused by family, friends, paid care providers, landlords, staff or any person in a position of trust and authority

Types of abuse

Elder abuse can take many forms, including:

  • physical abuse – causing injury or physical discomfort
  • psychological/emotional abuse – diminishing a sense of identity, dignity and self-worth
  • sexual abuse – sexual behaviour directed at an older adult without their full knowledge or consent
  • financial abuse – misusing of funds and assets without full knowledge or consent or not in that person’s best interests
  • neglect – intentionally withholding or not providing basic necessities or care, because of a lack of experience, information or ability

Examples of abusive behaviour toward a senior can include a person:

  • being controlling (isolating them from friends and family)
  • blaming them for the abuse
  • having a strong sense of entitlement to their property or belongings
  • treating them like a child
  • leaving them alone for long periods of time if they’re dependant

Some forms of abuse are criminal offences. Visit the Advocacy Centre for the Elderlyfor information on the types of abuse that fall under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Warning signs of abuse  

Some warning signs of a senior being abused can include:

  • changes in mood (depression, fear, anxiety or detachment)
  • changes in behaviour (social withdrawal)
  • physical harm (unexplained injuries)
  • neglect (lack of hygiene, food, clothing)
  • failure to meet financial obligations or unusual bank withdrawals
  • changes in living arrangements ( people moving in or being forced out)

What to do if someone is being abused

Call the police if you have immediate concerns about an older adult’s safety.
You must report abuse when the victim lives in a retirement home or a long-term care home in Ontario. Learn more about how to report abuse from Community Legal Education Ontario.
You can support an older person at risk by:

  • recognizing the warning signs of abuse
  • talking to the older adult and expressing your concerns
  • checking out the situation and finding out how you can help

Ask the person:

  • how they’re doing
  • if they’re having any trouble at home or in other ways
  • if there is someone you can put them in touch with who may be able to help
  • how else they would like to be  helped
  • what you can do

Remember that keeping lines of communication open and breaking isolation can be vital.

If an older adult tells you that they’re being abused:

  • be patient – listen carefully and don’t jump to conclusions
  • believe them – do not question what they are telling you. You may be the very first person who has ever been entrusted with this information. It may be hard to understand what is going on, especially if the perpetrator is a nice person to you or someone you know
  • do not judge them –Do not express pity or tell them what to do. Respect their decisions even when you don`t agree. Tell them you care about them and offer them a level of support that you feel comfortable providing and know that you can provide on an ongoing basis. Do not promise them things you know you cannot do or are not comfortable doing
  • understand that making efforts to change an abusive relationship is extremely difficult – a person who is being abused can be very afraid and not certain what to do. It can take a very long time for people to decide to make a change in their lives, to reach out for help or to even talk about their situation
  • do not deny what is going on – if you choose to deny what is going on or not to listen to a person, this will serve to isolate the person who is being abused even further
  • do not confront the perpetrator yourself – this could put you and/or the person who is being abused in trouble
  • educate yourself on resources available– learn about safety planning and call your local community information centre, community care access centre, community support agency; talk to your own doctor or lawyer; or search on the Internet for resources and information
  • encourage them to seek help – offer to help them find the right place to turn to and local resources, if this is something you are prepared and able to do

The Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children (CREVAWC) delivers It’s Not Right! Neighbours, Friends & Families for Older Adults to raise awareness of elder abuse. Contact them to learn more about bringing their elder abuse prevention initiatives to your community. You can also order print copies of the It’s Not Right brochure in English and French from ServiceOntario.

What to do if you’re being abused

If you’re being abused, you should know:

  • you do not deserve to be abused
  • you are not to blame for the abuse
  • you have a right to live without fear
  • you have the right to a safe, healthy environment and healthy relationships
  • abuse often gets worse over time
  • you have the right to control your own life and make your own decisions
  • you are not alone – others have experienced abuse and many have found ways to deal with these situations

You may or may not want to leave the situation or take action, but it is important to know your options and that help is available.
To seek help, you should:

  • tell someone you trust what is happening to you
  • ask others for help if you need it
  • turn to the police for help if someone is hurting you or you do not feel safe
  • talk with people to learn more about resources and services available in your community
  • find out your options to take care of your personal needs and financial security
  • make a safety plan in case you have to leave quickly

Safety planning checklist

You may want to consider putting together an emergency kit with:

  • emergency phone numbers written out and stored in a safe place
  • emergency money (e.g. for a taxi, hotel or payphone)
  • extra clothing
  • a list of medications, name and phone number of pharmacy, and at least three days’ worth of medications
  • glasses, hearing aids and other assistive devices such as cane, walker or wheelchair
  • a safe place to go in the event of an emergency (both in and outside your home)
  • an escape route from your home
  • keys for your home, car, and safety deposit box
  • copies of relevant documents, including:
    • identification (e.g. birth certificate)
    • marriage certificate or record of common-law relationship
    • notice of assessment from most recent income tax return
    • cheque books and credit cards
    • lease, rental agreement, or house deed
    • bank book and recent statements
    • health card
    • Social Insurance Number
    • passport
    • immigration papers

Thank you very much for providing us with opportunity to learn computer at this old age.

Nihir Arora

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