Elder Abuse Issues in Canada
Elder abuse is becoming more and more of an important issue in Canada and other countries, particularly in those with a rapidly aging population. According to recent information collected by Environics for Human Resources and Social Development Canada, as many as 10% of Canadian senior citizens may be victims of one or another forms of elder abuse (SeniorsCanada, 2008).
Polls of Canadians indicate that 96% of the population believes that most elder abuse is hidden from public awareness; almost one quarter of Canadians have concerns that a senior they know may be a victim of elder abuse; more than 90% of Canadians consider elder abuse an important issue for governmental intervention; and more than 10% of the population has specifically searched for information about elder abuse (SeniorsCanada, 2008).
Defining Different Types of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse consists of any form of conduct toward an elderly person that is abusive, including: (1) physical abuse such as slapping, hitting, confining against their will, and beating; (2) sexual abuse such as any unwanted sexual touching; (3) mental or emotional abuse such as purposely frightening, intimidating, or humiliating them; (4) neglect such as failing to provide adequate nourishment, shelter, or medical care; and (5) financial abuse such as stealing money or misusing legal authority for personal gain (SeniorsCanada, 2008).
Elder citizens are more vulnerable to abuse for several specific reasons: first, they are weaker and less able to defend themselves from younger abusers; second, they become increasingly dependent on others as they age; and third, they are often confined to the home (or long-term care institutions) where abusive conduct toward them occurs in secret and out of public view (LeBreton, 2008).
Understanding the Cause of Elder Abuse
There are numerous causes of elder abuse. Unfortunately, some people are abusive in general and inclined to abusive or violent conduct at any provocation or even for amusement. These types of individuals are likely to be abusive to anyone who is vulnerable in circumstances where there are unlikely to be any consequences. Within families, young adults who resent having to care for elderly relatives may resort to rough physical mistreatment during arguments or disagreements simply because they lose control and lash out violently (SeniorsCanada, 2008).
In long-term care institutions such as nursing homes, some professionals are dedicated to the health, welfare, and protection of elderly residents, but others may approach their jobs mechanically as a means to a paycheck and without any particular concern for their clientele. Since they have no family ties to the elderly in their care, they may sometimes react inappropriately to frustrations or in response to refusal on the part of clients to follow instructions (LeBreton, 2008).
In many cases, the elderly suffer from cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s and other progressive diseases that make it difficult for them to understand instructions or to cooperate with caregivers (SeniorsCanada, 2008). The frustrations that result can trigger abusive reactions in some individuals. Additionally, many elderly become incontinent and must rely on adult diapers and competent patient family members or professional caretakers to keep them clean and maintain the sanitary conditions of their living environment.
In those circumstances, certain individuals may become angry because they do not realize that these types of inconveniences are not within the ability of the elderly individuals to control. In other cases, abuse in connection with incontinence takes the form of neglect, such as where those responsible for caring for the elderly fail to keep them clean and allow them to remain in their own waste (LeBreton, 2008; SeniorsCanada, 2008).
Aside from direct physical, emotional, sexual abuse, or neglect, one of the most serious forms of elder abuse is the purposeful exploitation of access to confidential and financial information (LeBreton, 2008; SeniorsCanada, 2008). In many cases, these begin as crimes of opportunity rather than deliberate premeditation or planning, simply because those caring for the elderly have physical access to their private papers and information (LeBreton, 2008).
Often, family members or professional caregivers provide assistance with ordinary bookkeeping and bill-paying because the elderly may lose their ability to manage their personal and financial affairs and require assistance to pay rent and handle other ordinary paperwork-related functions. Similarly, caregivers often have access to bank accounts and check books because they are authorized by the elderly to use their money to ay for their needs such as food and medication.
Over time, those caring for the elderly in these situations may begin misusing that access to those finances for their own personal gain, especially when the elderly involved begin to lose the ability to keep track of what is going on in that regard. In the most extreme cases, individuals caring for elderly have actually stolen their identities by using their identifying information to open credit accounts or borrow money using the property or the homes of the elderly as collateral for loans and lines of credit (LeBreton, 2008; SeniorsCanada, 2008).
Protection of the Elderly and Prevention of Abuse
Both the United States and Canada have recently introduced criminal legislation to punish those who abuse the elderly in any way by imposing penal incarceration for the crime, just the same as where physical and sexual abuse and financial exploitation occur against other types of victims (SeniorsCanada, 2008). Likewise, many jurisdictions have implemented strict background check requirements for any individuals applying for licensing in connection with eldercare services, such as employment in nursing homes and both state-sponsored and private home healthcare agencies (SeniorsCanada, 2008).
However, one of the most important ways to protect the elderly from abuse is simply to increase awareness of the issue. That is because abuse (in general) often leaves tell-tale signs on the victims, whether those signs are physical (such as bruises and contusions) or behavioral (such as changes in attitude or apparent fear of their caretakers). In many cases, signs of abuse are not reported because they are not noticed or because they are explained away by the victims and/or their abusers (LeBreton, 2008).
Elder abuse is a serious social problem that affects a very vulnerable segment of the population. In many respects, it is shameful not just for those directly responsible for the abuse; it is also shameful on the part of those who could do something to protect the victims but do not care enough to make that a priority or to notice the problem. Canadian society is becoming more and more aware of the problem and government legislators have already reacted appropriately by enacting criminal penalties for elder abuse and by implementing background checking requirements to identify high-risk individuals seeking professional access to a vulnerable dependent population of potential victims. Ultimately it is a moral duty to protect all of those who cannot protect themselves from abuse, regardless of whether they are four years old or ninety-four years old.
Elder Abuse: it’s Time to Face the Reality. (2008). Accessed 30 Nov. 2009 from SeniorsCanada at the Canada Government public website at:
LeBreton, M. (2008). “Notes for Address to Leader of the Government in the Senate
and Secretary of State” (Seniors) World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Conference
Ottawa, Ontario (June 16, 2008). Accessed 30 Nov. 2009 from http://www.seniorscouncil.gc.ca/eng/speeches/2008/080616.shtml
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