How to identify elder abuse and take action to stop it

Elder abuse is defined as any action or lack of action that brings harm to an older person. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that 16% of older adults over 60 were affected by some form of abuse. It's believed that elder abuse has been on the rise since the global lockdown began; those providing support have seen an increase in the number of individuals seeking help. 


Abuse can take many different forms, for example: physical, sexual, emotional, financial/material abuse, or neglect and abandonment. There are many types of abuse and neglect including intimidation, negligence, emotional blackmail, theft, push and shove, threats, and aggression.  In times like these, it may be more challenging to identify due to public-health measures on physical distancing, stay at home orders, etc.


It may also be difficult to spot abuse as those who are victims of it might be reluctant to disclose that they are being abused out of fear that they could worsen the situation or face backlash. As a result, they may try to hide signs of it from others. Some individuals and communities may distrust or fear authorities and may be reluctant to seek their help.  Knowing the signs of elder abuse is critical to identifying it and acting. Key signs of elder abuse may include but are not limited to recent deterioration of health status, mental illness, alcohol or drug use, dehydration or malnutrition, poor hygiene, and bruises to the face, arms, or torso.   


Dealing with elder abuse may be challenging, but we can all be part of the solution. We must learn to take three actions:

1. Recognize the different forms and signs of elder abuse (including physical, social and behavioural signs).

2. Speak with the affected older adults.

3. Ask questions, get expert advice, and make sure the person is not in danger.

Read more about elder abuse risk factors, signs, and interventions in our resources below.

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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.