Location: Cronyn Hall, St. Paul’s Cathedral,
472 Richmond St. London, ON N6A 3E6
Thanks to a grant from the Province of Ontario’s Heritage Program, St. Paul’s Seniors’ Society hosted a free Workshop in honour of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The major topics of our workshop were:
- What is Elder Abuse?
- How to help?
- How to make sure that it doesn’t happen to you!
Detective Constable Carolyn Rashford, of the Hamilton (Ontario) Police Department,
Margaret MacPherson of an Ontario non-profit public education campaign, It’s Not Right! Neighbours, Friends and Families for Older Adults
Detective Rashford shared some of her wide experience gained from investigating criminal forms of elder abuse working with police-based Victim Services and Elder Abuse services and programs. She led her talk with congratulations for the City of London, Ontario being the first Canadian Municipality to meet the World Health Organization’s (United Nations) Standards for an “Age Friendly” City. The City of London has a 3-year plan to put in place changes in 8 key areas to make London a fully accessible city for older adults.
Ms. Margaret McPherson began by surprising us with the fact that we are all likely to be guilty of ageism (!) and how ageism, in and of itself, is part of abuse.
She said anyone who has wondered how adolescents spending their waking hours connected to electronic devices will be able to have healthy relationships with people as adults; anyone who routinely overtakes elderly drivers driving below the speed limit assuming they are poor drivers, is practicing ageism. She cautioned that any time we treat older adults as if one is less important or less valued because one is older, we set ourselves up for abusive situations because ageist attitudes allow people to believe that they have the right to ignore, harm or control an older adult.
What is Elder Abuse?
“It is abuse whenever someone limits or controls the rights and freedoms of an older adult. The older adult is unable to freely make choices because they are afraid of being humiliated, hurt, left alone, or, of the relationship ending.”
Margaret McPherson explained that abuse can be financial, psychological, sexual and spiritual, as well as neglect or physical violence. She stressed that abuse means there is an abuse of power involved and is both any action or inaction that causes harm to the older person.
What We All Need to Know About Abuse (From (2))
- (I) All form of abuse cause harm;
- (II) Abusive behaviour is not unusual–it can creep into any relationship;
- (III) Abusive relationships can happen to anyone;
- (IV) Most older adults who experience abuse are healthy and capable of making their own decisions;
- (V) Many types of abuse are against the law; all abuse is unacceptable;
- (VI) Older people affected by abuse are often isolated and it can often be hard for other people to see signs of abuse;
- (VII) The abuse is never the older adult’s fault;
- (VIII) People who are abusive also need help. Sometimes they need to be told. Abuse rarely goes away by itself and it usually becomes worse over time.
Who is abusing older adults?
Both Detective Rashford and Ms. McPherson told us that abuse of older adults often occurs within the family, by adult sons or daughters, or grandchildren. Other relatives, friends, neighbours, paid or unpaid caregivers, landlords, financial advisors, or any person in a position of power, trust or authority can also be abusive.
“WARNING SIGNS THAT YOUR BEHAVIOUR IS ABUSIVE (From (1))
If your need to ‘solve’ a situation allows you to ignore the other person’s feelings
Controlling behaviour such as isolating an older adult from friends and family, frequent arguments, name calling or threats
If the person is capable and yet you are making all of the decisions
Treating the older adult like a child: Do what I tell you
If you take their money or property and feel entitled to it: I can do whatever I want/you owe me
If the person is afraid of you
WARNING SIGNS: ABUSIVE BEHAVIOUR OF OTHERS (From (1))
A disclosure to you (believe it if someone tells you they are being abused)
Injuries such as bruises, sprains, broken bones, scratches, especially when the explanation does not fit the injury
Changes in behaviour of the older adult such as depression, withdrawal, fear
Changes in regular social activity such as missing church or other social events
Changes in living arrangements such as previously uninvolved relatives or new friends moving in
Changes in financial situations such as cancellation of services because the bills are not being paid (e.g. phone, television, internet, hydro)
Things “disappearing” from the home
Signs of neglect such as no food in the home, being left alone for long periods of time, not having glasses or hearing aids that are needed, not having proper clothing, not having usual haircuts, overlong finger or toenails”
Detective Rashford described criminal forms of elder abuse—situations where police may arrest the abuser, such as neglect and physical violence, theft of money and property, fraud including door-to-door sales, telephone scams, computer scams and hacking.
Detective Rashford has arrested caregivers for not giving an older adult their prescription medication as required, for not providing proper food or meeting other basic needs of older adults such as adequate heat. “That is criminal neglect.”
She also says: “If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is”.
“Don’t let door to door salespeople into your home. Take their sales literature if you like, but check them out at the Better Business Bureau before hiring anyone. Better yet, do your own research to find a good business at your own pace before talking to any business about getting work done.
Never answer personal or financial questions from strangers who phone you. Always be the one who places the phone call. Don’t be afraid to be rude by just hanging up. You can’t hurt a fraud artist’s feelings and scammers can talk around any excuse you can come up with because they talk to thousands of people. They only need to convince a few people to give them money to make their scam worth their while.
If a stranger asks you to send emergency money to help someone you know who is in a foreign country, get their contact information, hang up and phone your friend/relative at home yourself. You’ll find they have probably not even left their home.
You never have to pay to collect a prize you have won. You buy a lottery ticket and win, all you have to do to get your money is show the lottery ticket. You never pay when you win a prize, not processing fees, not bank transfers, not shipping costs, nothing.
Never give your name, or address or any financial information over the computer. Your bank will never ask you for it. The tax people will mail you whatever you need to know. So will every other government office.
The government and the police will never call and say if you pay this bill, this tax, etc. we won’t have to arrest you.
I don’t have rich relatives living in Nigeria who have died and left me a fortune. It is very unlikely that any of you do either.”
Again, “It is abuse whenever someone limits or controls the rights and freedoms of an older adult. The older adult is unable to freely make choices because they are afraid of being humiliated, hurt, left alone, or, of the relationship ending.” Detective Rashford told us it is very difficult for the police to lay charges for acts of psychological abuse. She said it is important not to be embarrassed to involve the police. (Paraphasing her) “We are here to help. That is what we do. You will not be wasting our time if we are unable to lay charges. Education is a big part of our job. Sometimes having a police officer confirm certain behaviour is abusive, though not criminal or, if criminal, there is not enough evidence to lay criminal charges, is enough for the older adult to begin to get help. We can help older adults access victim’s services and other sources of help. We can advise neighbours, friends, and family members how to help an older adult.”
What You Can Do When You Suspect Abuse of an Older Adult
- SEE it! “It’s not right!” It is easy to ignore warning signs and to tell yourself you must be mistaken or that it’s “not that bad” because it’s only one warning sign. There is likely much more going on you don’t see. Trust your instincts when something makes you uncomfortable. So, when you see a warning sign, say to yourself, “It’s not right!” This helps you move to Step 2.
- NAME it! “That looks/sounds like abuse.” Overcome your natural hesitation to help. Wait to be alone with the person who you think is being abused. Describe just the facts of what you witness. For example: Do say: I saw him take money from your wallet. Don’t use judgmental language or jump to conclusions: I say him stealing money from your wallet. Do say: I heard your daughter say she didn’t want to take you to the doctor. Don’t use judgmental language or jump to conclusions: Your daughter is being abusive for not taking you to the doctor.
- CHECK it! “Is it abuse? What can I do to help?” Check for immediate danger. If you think the situation is dangerous, call 911 or your police. If you see a warning sign, ask questions, don’t assume you know what is happening. For example: “I saw him take money from your wallet..Did you tell him it was okay?” “I heard your daughter say she didn’t want to take you to the doctor…Is there anything I can do? Do you still want to go?”
What You Can Do to Keep Yourself Safe From Abuse
Your Physical and Emotional Well-being
- Stay in regular contact with people who support you and respect your decisions
- Reach out to other seniors who may be alone
- Involve yourself in meaningful activities that give you enjoyment, strength and comfort
- Get out and about. Be part of life. Go on outings with friends, volunteer, go to church, visit your neighbours
- Stay physically active. Eat regularly and well
- There is no shame in asking for help. Seek support from a friend, a member of the clergy, from social services agencies, the police
Your Financial Security
- Keep track of your possessions
- Collect, open and send your own mail personally
- Review your bank statements every month and contact the bank if you see anything unexpected
- It is a crime if a family member uses your bank debit card or credit card without your knowledge, or forges your signature on a cheque. Contact the police. If it happens once, it can happen again
- To lend money or transfer ownership of your house or property to your children, have your own lawyer (do not share one with your children). Have your lawyer work out an agreement plan beforehand deciding repayment and/or conditions under which they might sell your property
- Consult a lawyer about financial planning for your future, any arrangements you are considering for your personal care, and reviewing your will regularly as needed
- Keep your financial information and other important documents in a safe place. Tell someone you trust and your lawyer where to find the information
- Learn about power of attorney arrangements for personal care and for your financial matters. Plan ahead so that if you become unable to make your own decisions, you will have already selected a person you trust to step in. Family members should know that they can ask this person for accounting at any time and that the power off attorney can be revoked if you become able to make your own decisions once again
For More Information
Phone: 1-800-622-6232 (1 800 O-Canada) or visit the Government of Canada’s website:
Go to www.seniors.gc.ca and search for “Elder Abuse”
For a pdf copy of any of the following 3 brochures on elder abuse, visit
- How You Can Identify Abuse and Help Older Adults at Risk
- What You Can Do When Abuse or Neglect Is Happening to an Older Adult in Your Life
- What You Can Do to Keep Yourself Safe From Abuse