Elder abuse becoming more common

Originally published by the Brock University Press on March 15th, 2011. To go to the Brock University Press website please click here

By the year 2031, approximately 25 per cent of Canada’s current population will be over 65-years-old. That’s eight million people who will be considered seniors.

An abundance of elderly people in Canada is not necessarily a problem. Rather, a hike in elder abuse incidents is becoming the issue.

Statistics Canada has stated that in 2005 there were 160 violent cases for every 100,000 seniors. Rates rose 20 per cent between 1998 and 2005, and have continued to increase ever since.

In a March 1, 2011 article on CBC.ca, it was indicated that seniors still remain “the least likely demographic to suffer violent crime, but they are most at risk of suffering violence at the hand of a family member”.

Surprisingly, children are the largest contributors to the growing statistics of violence against seniors. The category named “adult children” were held accountable for 15 out of 100,000 cases of elderly abuse, while current or former spouses trailed behind in the ranking with 13 out of 100,000.

When one mentions elder abuse, the type of violent acts can take several forms.

Violence towards seniors can be categorized into four categories – the first being neglect. CBC.ca reports that indicators of neglect include “unkempt appearance, broken glasses, lack of appropriate clothing as well as malnutrition, dehydration and poor personal hygiene”.

Physical abuse, perhaps the most obvious of the four, refers to “untreated or unexplainable injuries in various stages of healing, limb and skull fractures, bruises, black eyes and welts”.

Then there is psychological or emotional abuse. Here, changes in the way a senior acts is a major determinant. When an elderly person is emotionally upset, agitation often occurs in the form of sucking, biting and rocking. In addition, withdrawal or non-responsiveness should be considered alarm signals to any caretakers.

Last on the list is economic or financial harm. In these cases, being mindful of sudden changes to a senior’s bank account or banking activity, and substantial alterations to legal documents such as powers of attorney and wills, can detect action from unwarranted parties.

Media coverage of elder abuse plateaued in Nov., 2010 when a 68-year-old Toronto woman was allegedly left neglected by her son and daughter-in-law in an uninsulated garage. To make matters worse, it occurred during one of the year’s coldest months in one of the coldest countries in the world.

This case acted as a springboard for an advocacy group dedicated to seniors, who ended up calling on the Government of Canada to implement regulation changes.

The group, whose slogan is “A new vision of aging for Canada”, is named CARP – originally the Canadian Association for Retired Persons, now the Canadian Association for Fifty-Plus. They were created to lobby for changes to the Criminal Code that punish elder abuse. In addition, they hope to initiate a senior abuse-based hotline that aims to make it easier to report problems.