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Dealing with Abuse of Older Adults

There are many reasons why victims of elder abuse and people who know about or suspect elder abuse do not take action. Understanding these reasons and some ways to take action can help combat elder abuse in our communities


Awareness, education and support services can affect both reporting and addressing the abuse and neglect of older adults. No one deserves to be abused or neglected. If you are being abused or neglected, or if you think someone else is being abused, tell someone. Help is available.

Some older victims of abuse may not discuss the matter with a trusted individual or report the abuse because they...

  • are afraid of more abuse
  • are afraid they will lose their caregiver or lose contact with that family member
  • fear they will be placed in an institution
  • are ashamed that a family member mistreats them
  • feel that they are to blame
  • think they cannot prove it
  • believe that no one can really help them
  • are unable to due to cognitive impairment or disability

Limited social interactions or isolation from family and friends, combined with a victim's reluctance to speak up, may allow abuse to go unnoticed. Sometimes family, friends and other caregivers remain bystanders who suspect that an older person may be the victim of abuse or neglect but don't take any action because they...

  • don't know who they can talk to
  • are afraid to interfere in family relationships or jeopardize their employment
  • don't know if anything can be done
  • don't want to get involved

Taking Action

Sometimes people assume that older adults are not mentally competent because they have certain physical or mental limitations, so it is important to consider first whether the older person is capable of making their own choices. The goal of helping a victim of abuse is to leave them with more power, not less.

Different options are appropriate for different forms and stages of abuse. Your help could be anything from just listening, to getting the older adult's permission to involve others.

Victims may need information about the justice system. In particular, they may need to know where to go for help, what is likely to happen to the abuser and what impact it may have on them.

Before taking any action it is important to ask yourself if what you are doing will help empower the older adult and help keep them safe or if it will disempower them and/or put them in more danger.

Taking action could include...

  • Talking to the older adult in a non-judgmental fashion. Be patient and allow the older person to tell their story. Information gathering may take time. Acknowledge what they have said and let them know they are not alone - help is available.
  • Providing information to older adults, families and caregivers about...
    - abuse of older adults
    - frauds and scams
    - power of attorney and guardianship
    - health care directives
    - estate planning
    - support systems
    - the right to be treated with dignity and respect
    - the justice system
  • Reducing the potential for abuse by...
    - reducing isolation of older adults
    - referring possible victims and abusers to crisis lines, community support groups and government programs
  • Contacting other people who know the victim, for example, a doctor, clergy, social worker, elder, members of the victim's ethnic community, other family members or friends. Talk to the manager of the victim's bank or credit union if you suspect financial abuse. Bank personnel have a vested interest in preventing fraud.
  • Reporting criminal behaviour to the police or Crown Prosecutor.

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