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Elder abuse: It’s more common than you think

Newspapers and tabloids are constantly revealing cases of relationship abuse and child abuse, but they often leave out another form of hurt: elder abuse.

Important issues
woman consoling senior mother
We reveal the shocking frequency of this unfortunate form of abuse and how you can help keep our senior citizens safe.

Because elder abuse doesn’t receive the same publicity as other forms of abuse, it can often go unnoticed, leaving many senior citizens in danger and alone. What is incredibly unfortunate about elder abuse is the fact that perpetrators are often close friends and family of the victim. Senior citizens tend to have fewer people in their lives, and that means they trust the loved ones they do have wholeheartedly. When that trust is taken advantage of, it becomes abuse. The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action occurring in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress in an older person.” The Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse breaks elder abuse down into the following categories:

Physical abuse

Any physical pain or injury wilfully inflicted upon an elderly person is considered physical abuse of an elder. This may come in the form of hitting, pushing, shaking, restraining, etc. But it also extends to medical abuse, such as withholding or over-medicating a senior.

Sexual abuse

It is considered sexual abuse when contact occurs through threats, force or the inability of the person to give consent. Any sexual activity that occurs when one or both parties cannot or do not consent is considered sexual abuse. This includes inappropriate touching while bathing a senior or fondling a confused senior.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse. It refers to the theft or misuse of money and/or property that belongs to an elderly person. This leads to a monetary or personal gain for the abuser and a monetary or personal loss for the senior.

Psychological and emotional abuse

When someone wilfully attempts to provoke fear or anguish in a senior, it is known as psychological or emotional abuse. It can cause a senior to become increasingly afraid and isolated, and can also diminish their identity, dignity and self-worth.


Whether or not intentional, neglect occurs when a caregiver fails to meet the needs of a dependent senior. This can be displayed in many ways, such as inadequate food, medicine or clothing; poor supervision or safety precautions; allowing a senior to live unhygienically; denying access to services; denying a senior’s basic rights, etc.

It’s far too common

Victims of Violence reveals 7,900 cases of elder abuse were reported in Canada in 2009. Of those reported cases, one-third of the crimes were committed by family members of the elderly person, most commonly a spouse or grown child. These statistics are highly upsetting and need to change.

getting help

If you suspect an elder in your life may be experiencing abuse, refer them to the toll-free Seniors Safety Line at 1-866-299-1011. It’s open 24/7 and can provide them with information, support, safety planning and referrals to local community resources in over 150 languages. Don’t let the seniors in your life feel as though there’s nowhere to turn.

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