A new study into the mistreatment of older Canadians, Into the Light, reports that more than 750,000 seniors in Canada were victims of elder abuse. The rate of elder abuse has doubled since a similar 1989 study was released and can include physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse as well as neglect.
The prevalence study surveyed 5,000 adults over the age of 55 and was funded by the Government of Canada’s New Horizons Program.
Many of the older Canadians who suffer abuse do not report it because the abuse is often perpetrated by a family member. According to the study report, adult children or grandchildren are responsible for 37 per cent of financial abuse, the second most common type of abuse behind psychological abuse.
Residents of nursing homes, which make up 7 per cent of seniors, were not included in the study but likely are subject to abuse in even greater numbers, especially among those with dementia.
Education, beginning with the older population first and then their families, is key to putting a stop to this rise in abuse of seniors. Many victims are not aware of the community services and supports available to them and if they are dependent on their abusers, afraid to report the crime.
The World Health Organization defines abuse of older adults as:
“A single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person.”
A change in lifestyle such as retirement, financial trouble, physical or mental illness, addiction, lack of a support system, isolation and a decline of independence all put seniors at risk for abuse.
Elder abuse is rarely an isolated event and is unlikely to stop without action. If you suspect an older adult you know is being neglected or mistreated, call the police or visit http://www.seniors.gc.ca/eng/pie/eaa/help.shtml for a list of elder abuse resources in your area.