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Abuse of older adults refers to actions that harm an older person or jeopardize the person's health or welfare. Abuse of older adults is also known as senior abuse or elder abuse.

According to the World Health Organization, abuse and neglect of older adults can be a single or a repeated act. It can occur in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust or where a person is in a position of power or authority.

Abuse can be physical (e.g. hitting) emotional, verbal (e.g. name calling), financial (e.g. taking money or property), sexual and spiritual. Some types of abuse of older adults involve violation of their rights. Financial abuse is considered the most common form of abuse of older adults. Neglect can be part of abuse.

Neglect involves not doing something, such as providing the older person with food, shelter, medication, or care.

Older adults often experience more than one form of abuse and neglect. For example, they may be emotionally and financially abused, or emotionally and physically abused. Some older adults may be neglected and have their rights violated.

Who are the Victims?

Abuse or neglect can happen to any older adult. In fact, contrary to commonly held beliefs, most older adults who experience abuse or neglect are mentally competent, are not dependent on other people, and do not require constant care. It can occur in any relationship, including one where there is an expectation of trust or where a person is in a position of power or authority. Abuse or neglect of older adults can take place in the home, in a residential care setting, or in the community.  

Who are the Abusers?

Abuse of older adults most often occurs within the family, by a spouse, children, and/or grandchildren. However, abusers can also include friends, neighbors, paid care providers, landlords and staff, or any individual in a position of power, trust, or authority.

How Many Older Adults are Affected by Abuse or Neglect?

Research on abuse of older adults is relatively new and limited in Canada and throughout the world. Abuse and neglect of older adults is often hidden and under-reported. In many cases, people may not recognize abuse and neglect of older adults when it is happening. They may not understand what it is.
  • Canadian research indicates that between 4 and 10% of older adults experience one or more forms of abuse or neglect at some point in their later years from someone they trust or rely on. Under-reporting and inconsistencies in collecting information on abuse suggest that these figures are "the tip of the iceberg."

  • Some older adults may be more likely to experience abuse or neglect, including those who are isolated, and those who have mental or physical impairments.
  • It is estimated that between 177,000 and 442,000 seniors in Canada are experiencing or have experienced abuse or neglect in later life.

Did You Know?
  • About 80% of abuse or neglect of older adults is hidden or goes undetected. Only about one in five cases of abuse come to the attention of community agencies or authorities.

  • Abuse is not limited to older adults of any particular culture, ethnic group, social background, or religion.

  • Spousal abuse can "grow old". It can start earlier in a relationship and continue into later life.
  • Older women are the victims in about two-thirds of the cases of abuse or neglect that come to the attention of community agencies.


Abuse Help

June 15
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day