CARP Poll Uncovers High Rate of Elder Abuse: Those With Caregivers Most At Risk

A CARP poll of members has revealed that almost 1-in-10 older Canadians (as many as 783,000) have suffered from elder abuse. Based on our sample which is primarily 55 years and older, a group which makes up 8.7 million people in Canada, 9% would represent 783,000 older Canadians. Abuse manifests itself as neglect, physical, financial or sexual abuse, and CARP members report all of these. Elder abuse is twice as common among those with caregivers. More worrying is that almost one third of older Canadians know of someone who has been abused.

CARP polled readers of its newsletter CARP Action Online on the subject of elder abuse, and found results which mirror the best estimates of national authorities on the incidence of elder abuse in Canada.

Statistics Canada has estimated that between 4% and 10% of seniors are subject to elder abuse, which is defined as neglect, emotional, physical, sexual or financial abuse. Our survey found that 9% of CARP ActionOnline readers claimed to have suffered elder abuse. 98.5 percent of our sample is 55 years of age and older. Our poll data for only those 65 and older (StatsCan’s sample) shows an identical percentage, 9%, report experiencing abuse. As such, CARP’s figures are in close agreement with the high end of previous accepted estimates.

More disturbing than the prevalence of elder abuse among CARP members, perhaps, is that close to one third (30%) say they know someone else who is or has been abused. Incidence of knowing someone who has been abused is higher for females (34%) than males (26%). This exceeds a recent finding publicized by the federal government that one in five Canadians (20%) know someone they think is being abused.

The fact that three times as many are aware of abuse among others as report it amongst themselves may be due to several factors:

1. It may be that some readers are ashamed to report abuse to themselves and “project” it on others instead (unlikely)

2. Our readers are generally well-educated, capable and alert. While many are seniors, they themselves are not targets for abuse but may well know of others not so fortunate who are (more likely)

Nonetheless, it is sobering to think that 1-in-10 CARP ActionOnline readers, an especially engaged and computer-literate group, may have been subject to the kind of victimization which usually occurs amongst the weakest and most vulnerable in society.

When asked to categorize the types of abuse they have suffered, respondents reported a pattern that is mirrored in the existing literature:

Psychological abuse (swearing, cursing) 13%
Financial abuse (fraud, theft) 4%
Sexual abuse (touching, language) 2%
Physical abuse (beatings, assault) 1%
Neglect 1%

It is especially important that respondents are unafraid to report small but significant levels of physical (potentially 113,000 Canadians) and sexual abuse (potentially 174,000 Canadians).

The literature on elder abuse in North America suggests that financial abuse is about twice as common as physical or sexual abuse, which is reflected in our findings.

It is interesting to note that respondents are more likely to say they have experienced psychological abuse (13%) than they are to say they have experienced abuse overall (9%), but this probably reflects the fact that people do not automatically identify demeaning language as a form of abuse, as such, until it is mentioned to them.