Are you a victim of abuse?

The Bottom Line

  • Abuse and neglect of older adults can take many forms: physical, psychological, sexual, systemic, financial.
  • Abuse cases are not all reported and tend to get worse over time.
  • Obstacles to identifying and reporting abuse cases include the reluctance to recognize them, the reluctance of older adults to report, a lack of protocols to identify them, the fear of being held responsible, and the limited resources available to help victims.

Intimidation. Negligence. Emotional blackmail and manipulation. Theft. Push and shove. Infantilization. Threat. Aggression. Abuse and neglect can take many forms.

Are you an older adult? Do you feel vulnerable in certain situations? Do you think you are being abused or neglected, but are afraid of reprisals or do not know what to do? Do you have an elderly parent and worry about his or her safety? Have you witnessed acts of elder abuse?

If so, you are not alone. Did you know that in Canada, it is estimated that between 4% and 10% of people over 65 live in situations of abuse and neglect (1)? According to the World Health Organization, elder abuse is: "a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person" (2).

A systematic review of 62 studies was conducted to identify ways to prevent and combat elder abuse and neglect in Canada, particularly in healthcare settings. These studies, conducted from 2000 to 2013, focused specifically on the identification, evaluation and response to abuse cases (3).

What does the research tell us

How to identify abuse and neglect

Recent deterioration of health status, mental illness, alcohol or drug use, dehydration or malnutrition, poor hygiene, bruises to the face, arms or torso: these are indicators and risk factors associated with abuse and neglect cases. Talk to your health- and social-system professional about your situation at your next appointment. They can screen for, question, identify and confirm potential cases of abuse.

How to prevent

Several studies identified in the systematic review suggest that different stakeholders do not have a good understanding of the laws and resources to protect older adults. Implementing measures to increase knowledge about abuse could help stakeholders, for example, better identify potential cases of abuse, as well as clarify their roles and responsibilities.

To prevent abuse, studies indicate that strategies to support older victims, such as support groups and organized community activities, are promising as a way to build trust with different stakeholders, promote informal exchanges, and make assistance accessible if needed.

The systematic review also reveals that caregivers are often stressed and do not always know how to adequately meet the needs of the older adults they care for. Better listening to their needs, as well as offering stress management training, support for older adults and care to address specific health issues seem to mitigate psychological abusive behaviours by caregivers.

Funding mass media campaigns to increase public information and awareness about elder abuse seems promising to improve the situation by breaking the silence and promoting reporting of abuse cases. Such awareness can also help to change attitudes and behaviours towards abuse.

Finally, establishing clear processes to report cases of abuse within health- and social-system teams is a good practice, as well as a better interdisciplinary collaboration of different stakeholders.

What organizational and systemic policies are required?

To reduce the incidence of elder abuse, the systematic review highlights the importance of putting in place measures to improve the working conditions of health- and social-system professionals, monitoring abuse in institutions providing care and services to older adults, creating training and support programs, as well as developing and publicizing the resources available to older adults and caregivers.

Whether you are an older adult or caregiver, resources exist to help you deal with abuse. Do not hesitate to seek help from a health professional or social worker.

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Author Details


  1. Brennan S. Victimization of Older Canadians. [Internet] 2012. Statistics Canada, Ottawa: Canada. [cited September 2017]. Available from:
  2. Ministère de la Famille et des Aînés. Governmental Action Plan to Counter Elder Abuse, 2010-2015. [Internet] 2010. Government of Quebec, Quebec City: Canada. Available from:
  3. Hirst SP, Penney T, McNeill S, Boscart VM, et al. Best-practice guideline on the prevention of abuse and neglect of older adults. Canadian Journal on Aging. 2016; 35(2): 242-260.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.