Seniors and Healthy Aging Secretariat

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What is the Abuse of Older Adults?

(Also called Senior Abuse or Elder Abuse)

Elder abuse is any action or inaction by a person in a relationship of trust which jeopardizes the health or well-being of an older person.

Elder abuse can happen to older adults living in their homes or in care facilities.

There are several types of abuse, those being physical, sexual, emotional, financial and neglect. The most common types of abuse are financial and emotional.

Canadian prevalence rates suggest that 4 to 10% of Canadian seniors are abused.  By extrapolating this percentage to Manitoba, it is estimated that between 7,500 and 19,000 seniors in Manitoba are victims of elder abuse each year.  However, this is only the tip of the iceberg as only 1 in 5 cases come to the attention of someone who can help.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is defined as any action that causes physical discomfort, pain or injury.

Some examples of physical abuse may include:

  • Slapping, shaking, kicking, pushing, beating, punching, burning, and throwing items at somebody.

“I am not as independent as I used to be.  I need help with certain tasks.  I try my best to do things on my own and I know that it takes me longer to do things than it used to.  My daughter helps me but I am ashamed to admit that sometimes she shakes me and even hits me.”

Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse is defined as pressuring or forcing somebody to engage in sexual activity.

Some examples of sexual abuse may include:

  • Verbal or suggestive behaviour, not respecting personal privacy, sexual intercourse or any unwanted sexual contact.

“My husband has always been very controlling.  He has never hit me but lately he pressures me into sexually activity even when I don’t feel like it.  He makes me feel guilty so I do.”

Emotional Abuse

Emotional Abuse is defined as any act (verbal or non-verbal) that causes pain or distress.

Some examples of emotional abuse may include:

  • Verbal assaults, threats, insults, intimidation, humiliation, harassment, treating the older person like a child, isolating the person from family and the community, not considering the person’s wishes.

“I don’t have a big family and have outlived most of my friends.  My niece is the only family member I see regularly.  I am 85 but still feel good and am able to do most things for myself.  My niece calls me old and lazy and says I should be thankful I have her to take care of me.”

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is defined as the illegal or inappropriate use of another person’s money or property.

Some examples of financial abuse may include:

  • Attempting or actually influencing, tricking, or threatening the older adult out of money, property or possessions
  • Attempting or actually influencing them to change their will and/or power of attorney
  • Cashing cheques without permission
  • Accessing accounts without permission
  • Using the older person’s money for purposes other than intended by that individual such as for purchasing alcohol or gambling
  • Refusing to move out of the older person’s home when asked
  • Living with the older person while not paying for a fair share of the expenses
  • Pressuring the older adult to purchase alcohol or drugs

“I have been living with my daughter and son-in-law since my wife passed away.  Last week, my son-in-law asked me to sign a power of attorney so he could help with my affairs.  I’m not sure what this document is, but he is insisting I sign it.”


Neglect is defined as the failure to meet the needs of an older adult who cannot meet those needs on his/her own

Two types of neglect:

  1. Intentional neglect: The deliberate withholding of care of the necessities of life such as food and withholding or inadequately providing for physical or emotional needs for someone who is not able to meet those needs on their own.

  2. Unintentional neglect: Non-malicious withholding of basic necessities and/or care because of lack of experience, information or ability.

Some examples of neglect may include:

  • Not attending to the older person for long periods of time
  • Restraining the older person
  • Not seeking medical treatment for the older person
  • Over-medicating or under-medicating
  • Not providing an adequate amount of food
  • Not providing adequate access to wash room facilities
  • Not attending to the personal hygiene of the older person

“A friend moved from her apartment to her son’s home a few months ago. I have only seen her twice since. Last week, I went to her son’s place to see her and he never left us alone. I noticed a drastic change in her appearance. Her hair was messy, she didn’t have her dentures in and she had old food stains on her blouse. I am very worried about her.”

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