Marina Cewick (B.H.Ecol.) & Kerstin Roger (PhD)
Each year, personal care homes host community walks for International Elder Abuse Awareness Day (IEAAD). This year, that likelihood seems grim. Many personal care homes are still limiting visits to our loved ones in caution of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Although the commemorative day is happening differently this year, the abuse of older people in the community is still a reality for many strong and resilient individuals.
The abuse of older adults, or better known as elder abuse, is a phenomenon defined by WHO as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person” (World Health Organization, 2018).
Who is an “older person”? Based on pensions in Canada those 65+ are considered a senior. However, organizations in Manitoba (A&O: Support Services to Older Adults Inc.) consider anyone 55+ a senior or older adult.
In Canada, reports written in the last 5 years have indicated that abuse of older adults occurs to about 7.5% of older Canadians. There are five main classifications of the type of abuse that can occur: physical, sexual, emotional, financial and neglect. According to a recent study conducted in the Prairie provinces (Roger et al, 2020), statistics in Manitoba indicate that financial and emotional abuse are the most prevalent reported to senior’s support services. Financial abuse is when somebody tricks, threatens, or persuades older adults out of their money, property, or possessions.
Who are the perpetrators of abuse? Like similar crime in Canada, elder abuse is perpetrated most often by people known to the victim. The most prevalent abuser in Manitoba cases of abuse are usually adult children; however, spouses, caregivers, and other family members are some of the other perpetrators of elder abuse.
The biggest problem with elder abuse is that it is largely underreported (Roger et al, 2020). Many older adults have difficulty reporting abuse when they have such a strong dependency on care provided by abusers. Many have feelings of shame, fear and responsibility for their abuse. Some older adults don’t recognize mistreatment and have difficulty naming or describing abuse. As well, there is limited resources to support seniors who seek help in situations of mistreatment. Unlike mandatory reporting of child abuse laws, there is no governing body specifically for elder abuse in the community in Canada.
What does this mean for IEAAD? This year many older adults are experiencing loneliness and a lack of social interaction given the pandemic. It is up to loved ones, like us, to look out for and ask questions when something seems suspicious. Older adults experiencing abuse don’t want us to meddle in their business, but they do want our support and friendship. So next time you see your “senior” neighbour, friend, family member, don’t be shy! You may be the one person they can count on for support.
Roger, R., Goodridge, D., Ranville, M., Walsh, C.A., Cewick, M., Hall, K., Liepert, C., Songose, L., Anjorin-Ohu, K., & PausJenssen, E. (2020) Under Reporting of Abuse of Older Adults in the Prairie Provinces: A Summary Report of Findings.
A study funded by Prairie Action Fund.
World Health Organization (2018) Elder abuse. Retrieved June 9, 2020: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/elder-abuse