Elder abuse needs more attention, say advocates

Originally published by CTV on March 2nd, 2011. To go to the CTV website please click here

With the disturbing case of a Toronto man accused of keeping his elderly mother in an unheated garage making headlines, many are saying it’s time for elder abuse to be given the same attention that child abuse and violence against women receive.

Teri Kay, the executive director of the Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, says it wasn’t very long ago that child and domestic abuse were silent scourges. Now, with an aging population, it’s likely that we’re going to see more cases of elder abuse and neglect, she says.

The topic is front of mind this week after a 68-year-old Toronto woman was found living in her son’s uninsulated garage. She remains in critical care in hospital and her son and his wife have been charged with failing to provide the necessities of life, as well as criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

Also on Wednesday, actor Mickey Rooney, 90, spoke in front of Congress about his experience with elder abuse.

“If elder abuse happened to me, Mickey Rooney, it can happen to anyone,” the 90-year-old actor told the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

In court documents, Rooney has accused his stepson of bullying him and blocking his access to his own mail.

Rooney said he suffered on his own for years because “I couldn’t muster the courage to seek the help I knew I needed.

He urged seniors to come forward with their stories.

“Please, for yourself, end the cycle of abuse and do not allow yourself to be silenced any longer.”

Toronto case

Kay says it’s likely that others in the neighbourhood or the family knew what was going on but chose not to speak, just as people once chose not to speak about domestic assault.

“Somebody had to know what had been going on. But this is not unusual. Elder abuse is a subject that is very difficult to speak about. It’s often dealt with behind closed doors,” Kay told CTV’s Canada AM Wednesday

Kay believes that elder abuse takes place in Canada every day, though usually not in extreme forms like the neglect alleged in this case.

She says financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse she’s encountered.

“Financial abuse is often what prompts the call: someone is missing money and can’t pay the rent,” she said.

“Then, when you start to delve into the case, you discover there are other forms of abuse present. It may be physical, but more likely it’s emotional or psychological abuse, or neglect.”

The case has prompted calls for tougher charges and sentences for those accused of elder abuse. The seniors advocacy group CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons) says elder abuse should be its own charge under the Criminal Code.

“The current Criminal Code doesn’t do the trick,” CARP’s Susan Eng told CTV News Channel Tuesday, noting that sentences are short and cases take too long to go through the courts.