Ending Elder Abuse:

CARP says we need to look beyond education and awareness: society needs to be mobilized in the fight against elder abuse.

Last month Canada hosted the 2008 conference on elder abuse taking place during elder abuse awareness month. During the opening ceremonies, Senator Majory LeBreton, leader of government in the Senate and Secretary of State for Seniors announced that the government had pledged $13 million over the next three years to promote elder abuse awareness. Their campaign will begin October 1st, the International Day of Older Persons.

We need to combat elder abuse: according to a Statistics Canada survey, 10% of people over the age of 65 are thought to be victims of violence. Yet in a national survey on abuse, only 1% of respondents registered abuse against seniors as a type of family violence. There are many facets to elder abuse and education is a must: some, for example, may not realize that neglect can constitute abuse… Canadian academics had an important role in defining the issue on the international stage. In 2002, the World Health Organization released its World Report on Violence and Health and warned that elder abuse in continuing care facilities was being reported in every country where such institutions existed. A collaboration between the University of Toronto and six universities across Canada as well as stakeholders produced a detailed report on Elder Abuse in institutional settings this past May. The report stated that “The collective nature of institutions means that the potential for abuse and neglect may be significant, and the nature of institutions can create strong power differences between administrative personnel, staff, residents and their families.”

This currently rings very true in Ontario where a report was recently issued indicating that the majority of nursing homes failed to meet provincial standards. In a June 16th press conference, André Marin, Ontario Ombudsman announced that he would launch an investigation and review the monitoring of long-term care facilities. CARP supports such an inquiry and will watch closely for the results of the Ombudman’s investigation.

Such initiatives are encouraging and promising but they will not succeed in ending elder abuse on their own: societal mobilization is required. Ageism is the largest societal issue that facilitates the propagation of elder abuse. Even positive stereotypes about older adults can facilitate abuse: in one instance, neighbours had repeatedly called the police to the home of an 89 year-old man and his wife. By all accounts, the man was very violent but the police initially failed to intervene because they did not believe a senior was capable of such violence. Eventually, when the wife showed the police the padlocked basement room where she was often held captive as well as her husband’s weapon arsenal, they were forced to face the facts.

Indeed, domestic elder abuse sheds light on the greatest service gap in regards to this issue: shelters. Victims of elder abuse are often women and shelters for women generally give priority to women with children. Another issue is that older victims may have more care needs then younger victims. Currently, there are very few of these shelters and none can provide the kind of care that would permit the housing of disabled seniors. CARP will be looking into the service gaps and contributing to the development of models that could address them. We have suggested that perhaps a foster family system could be put in place for victims of elder abuse.