“We need the National Seniors Council to look at ways to reach out to our seniors communities on the existence of elder abuse—in all its ugly forms. We need the National Seniors Council to present ways in which we can break the wall of silence and show seniors that elder abuse exists, that it is not tolerated, and there is help available in our communities to cope.”
The Honourable Marjory LeBreton, Secretary of State (Seniors),
at the inaugural meeting of the National Seniors Council, May 2007.
Momentum for action on elder abuse is building within the federal government. The National Seniors Council is pleased that the October 16, 2007, Speech from the Throne touched on this important issue. The National Seniors Council hopes that this report will provide further impetus to the important work on elder abuse already underway across Canada.
This report is divided into two parts.
“What Participants Told Us” summarizes the information gathered by the National Seniors Council during the regional meetings.
“Conclusions” contains the considerations that emerged from the meetings and advice to Ministers on possible areas for action.
For too long, elder abuse has remained a largely hidden issue, with untold social and economic costs—above all, to seniors who are victims of abuse.
Elder abuse may take many forms: financial, physical, emotional or psychological, sexual, systemic (e.g. ageism), spiritual and neglect (either self-neglect by seniors or neglect by others).
Elder abuse is an issue that may affect seniors in all walks of life. However, some seniors may be at greater risk of experiencing some type of abuse: those who are older; female; isolated; dependent on others; cared for by someone with an addiction; seniors living in institutional settings; and those who are frail, who have a cognitive impairment or a physical disability.
It is difficult to estimate the prevalence and incidence of elder abuse in Canada due to factors such as under-reporting, confusion about what constitutes abuse, limitations in victimization surveys and police statistics, or a general lack of awareness about the issue. Nonetheless, based on available Canadian data, it is estimated that between 4 percent and 10 percent of older adults in Canada experience some type of abuse1. In the current demographic context of a rapidly increasing seniors population, it is clearly an issue that requires attention.
It is time for Canadians to focus greater attention on the issue of elder abuse, and to strive to increase awareness of the extent and nature of the issue; to achieve a better understanding of its causes and consequences for individuals, families and communities; to ensure that people are able to get help and know where to turn for assistance; and to identify good practices for recognizing, responding and preventing elder abuse.
In order to help understand the issue, the National Seniors Council held five regional meetings on elder abuse with experts and stakeholders, between September 17 and October 3, 2007. The meetings were moderated by the Chair of the National Seniors Council and co-chaired by the Council members from each of the five regions.
These regional meetings were guided by the definition of elder abuse that is commonly-used internationally:
“A single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”2
The objectives of the meetings were to:
Fifty individuals, representing organizations serving seniors, law enforcement agencies, legal experts, service providers and academics participated in the meetings. The discussions at each meeting were guided by four overarching questions:
1 Elder Abuse in Canada; Preliminary Overview of the Issue, August 2007, prepared for the National Seniors Council (unpublished)
2 Definition developed by Action on Elder Abuse in the United Kingdom and cited in World Report on Violence and Health, World Health Organization, (2002). Geneva, Switzerland.