Healing Gaia

Confronting the Challenges of Elder Abuse

The situation of a rapidly aging population brings with it a whole new set of challenges for individuals, their families and society.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published February 03, 2015

I'm getting older. At least that's what my partner and children tell me. I guess I should thank them for sharing this with me otherwise I would never know. It seems there are a lot of us out there. Older people, I mean.

Like me, many of my friends and colleagues are baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. In 2011, the first generation of boomers turned 65. Five million Canadians were seniors. That number will double in the next 25 years.

This situation of a rapidly aging population brings with it a whole new set of challenges for individuals, their families and society.

What we do know is that once someone can be visually identified as a senior, society tends to treat them differently. This is known as ageism, or the stereotyping of and discrimination against people based on their age. Ageism includes emotional, physical, psychological, financial, social, sexual, and spiritual abuse. It may also involve neglect - the failure to provide the necessities of life.

The majority of seniors experiencing elder abuse are women. They may have experienced domestic violence throughout their marriage. This abuse tends to escalate when their partner becomes their primary caregiver.

Women who have never experienced domestic abuse may become victims of violence for the first time when their primary care giver becomes overwhelmed with the task of providing ongoing care. Older men are sometimes physically assaulted but it's usually by a neighbor or acquaintance.

Women experience family violence when an adult child, usually a son, assumes the role of decision maker or unofficial power of attorney. Sons are the most likely perpetrators because segments of society still cling to the antiquated notion that a household has to have a male at the helm. This sense of male entitlement fostered by sexism and reinforced by ageism perpetuates gender inequalities.

The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (2012) looked at one case of homicide and four cases of homicide/suicide involving adults over the age of 60. In all cases the women were murdered by their male partners.

Three couples had prior histories of domestic violence and displayed typical warning signs indicating that the women were high risk for being murdered. The two couples with no prior history of violence in their relationships did have signs of mental health issues including early onset dementia, depression, increasing physical limitations, and financial concerns.

Without intervention, homicide/suicide can become a very real option for caregivers without hope.

"It's Not Right!" is a vital aspect of the Neighbours, Friends and Family campaign designed to raise awareness of the signs of woman abuse.

The pamphlets, vignettes, and workshops help people close to an at-risk woman or an abusive man recognize the signs of elder abuse and learn how they can make a difference. Information is also available so that older adults experiencing abuse can safely reach out for help from their community.

Please take the time to visit the web site One in Four. This grassroots volunteer organization is committed to helping women in Hamilton connect with the services they need to leave and heal from domestic violence.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.


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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted February 03, 2015 at 11:46:25

Interesting article. Not sure why the focus veered so dramatically after the fifth paragraph; a shame, because both topics...'elder abuse' and 'female-based domestic elder violence'...are valid independently and deserve attention in their own rights.

My father passed away last year. For me, it had been a nine-year ramp-up, but the final few months took a dramatic turn as his 'diminished abilities' gained momentum.

I was lucky. I was able to be there for him both when he was living independently and in care. That I have a huge heart and an equal store of patience was a blessing. And yet I could see as the pressure mounted and my reserves were constantly being depleted how 'elder abuse' is as prevalent as it is. Both by family members as well as caretakers.

It's a strange, bewildering thing to have roles reversed. To see your parents reduced from fully-functioning adults to vulnerable aged entities. It's confusing. It's confounding. And, on occasion (depending on the particulars of the situation), the stuff of frustration and anger. 'Being there' for our parents can test us. Resentment can rise to the surface. And yes, anger can burst forth.

I never had these things happen. But there were more than a handful of interludes where I could appreciate how easily things could turn for someone else in my position. How 'tempestuous' could end up being the descriptor. And when things got to the point of recognizing how much was being demanded of me by things, merely in the understanding attached, I would flinch from the sobering reality check.

As I say, I was blessed with the resources to be able provide my dad with the best version of myself. Others aren't so fortunate. Which is why elder abuse is so prevalent in a pressure-cooker of a world.

As the elderly population ages, as the numbers of vulnerable Canadians grows, we need to be having more discussions. Lord knows silence isn't going to get us anywhere.

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By Kris (registered) | Posted February 03, 2015 at 19:24:02

I agree with ItJustId that the article ends up somewhere different from where it started. Elder abuse and gender-based intimate partner violence definitely have some overlap but are also quite different social problems with their own particular needs. As the author points out, elder abuse includes much more than violence and often takes the form of severe neglect or financial exploitation. It is also not necessarily gender-based, and it isn't necessarily perpetrated by an intimate partner (for example, abusers are sometimes the children). More importantly, there are particularities to elder abuse unique to this social pathology that require specialized expertise. For example, many victims suffer from cognitive impairments like dementia which pose challenges to advocacy and self-advocacy. There can be legal issue regarding power of attorney. The frail and elderly have special needs in care provision, esp. related to health care. And so forth.

So although One in Four does good work, for elder abuse I strongly recommend leaning on resources and support from social organizations with a specialty in serving seniors. I would also resist treating elder abuse as a sub-set or special kind of gender-based intimate partner violence.

Btw, I hope it's clear that by making these observations I'm in no way trying to detract from the seriousness of woman abuse as an issue.

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted February 04, 2015 at 13:53:56

As the older generations seem to be more drawn to the ballot box than the youngsters, is it not incumbent upon the (near) elderly to vote for policies which will promote the availability of the services they will need rather than face a future without them?

Should not the boomers be the loudest activists for transit, health care, infrastructure and civic services?

If you want to make life easier - especially support for 'staying independent as long as possible' - is it not necessary to vote for:

  • excellence in transit and walkability (you're going to have to give up driving when your sight and reaction times are impacted by age or infirmity)
  • neighbourhoods that are inclusive of services (you're going to miss smaller groceries stores when your choices are a $20 taxi fare to a mega-mart or the 'only stocks pop, chips, smokes and lottery tickets' convenience store)
  • functional infrastructure that brings fuel, power and information into your home and takes waste away (should've started on the sewage treatment plant 20 years ago, what will it be worth to have good sidewalks and streets to get you from your home to transit inside of 250m)
  • adequate health care facilities (we used to overbuild hospitals for when the next epidemic disease struck, now patients who need living assistance take up general ward beds and patients languish in the hallways of emergency rooms for days - don't even get me started on the ambulances that make multiple visits per day to the local retirement residence)

I suppose it's a form of elder abuse that is highly reactive... I'm irritated that my parents and grandparents voted for a lot of really stupid policy changes that provided them with benefits at the expense of me (GenX sandwich) and all future generations. How do we get out from under the crushing load we have at all levels of government brought on by 30-40 years of shortsighted decisions?

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted February 05, 2015 at 16:34:20

Others aren't so fortunate. Which is why elder abuse is so prevalent in a pressure-cooker of a world.


I'm irritated that my parents and grandparents voted for a lot of really stupid policy changes that provided them with benefits at the expense of me

Both of these comments made fantastic points, are related, and in my opinion are worth emphasis.

The purpose of sharing the following is because it nails both points right on the head.

My father is not living and did not successfully leave my mom an estate. I have plans to pay my mom a salary out of an investment account. Why would I choose to share such a personal detail on this website right now? Because it is directly related to a choice to go car-less. Since 2008, instead of making car and insurance payments, that portion of my wage has been going toward improved diet, travel, and outdoor activity for myself, and definitely not second, to buying stocks and investments for future income for my family.

The dimwits among us would accuse me of freeloading and damaging our economy. Those dimwits should ask the small businesses I'm spending money with, whether my choices are damaging the local economy. My OHIP burden on the taxpayer is virtually non-existent because I'm among the healthiest citizens in the city. And, my mom will draw less social security in old age as a result of an income source from her kids.

It is a pressure-cooker world. I acknowledge a thousand percent that not everyone is as fortunate to ditch the car. What I am saying is, when you go to the voting booth, and vote for Rob Ford's "war on everyone except cars", or vote against a bike lane, or vote in favor of privatizing something that has put Canada in the top livability index, or vote in favor of sprawl while prohibiting urbanization, while knee-jerk calling people wanting GO Trains electrified "libtards" ... remember ... when you are sitting in an evil nursing home, or eating pork and beans out of a roach apartment ... remember that everything is connected, and you could have been a factor in the chain of events that made the current way of life unsustainable and implode on itself.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2015-02-05 16:46:38

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted February 07, 2015 at 05:29:19

The Provincial Liberals handed out elder care services like candy to their 'friends' & left those in real need to fend for themselves.

We have had 60 years + to prepare for The Boomers to become seniors, & we cannot even accommodate the needs of the Boomer's parents!

After what I experienced looking after my Mother for over 2 decades, it's a wonder I'm not in a psych ward! I got no help from CCAC until my Mom ended up wheelchair bound after a severe fall. Even after that, in spite of her being in her late 90's, being incontinent, totally deaf, & having severe dementia, I had to threaten to refuse to take her home to get any help at all.

I have no family other than my daughter who works full time. When I mentioned that I had a 2nd cousin living in Barrie, in her 80's without a driver's licence, I was disqualified from help on that basis. She was looking after her husband who had had a stroke. Was she really expected to take 3 buses to Hamilton to assist me & my Mother? Was there any logic in that decision?

She was often verbally abusive, & physically confrontational. From the 1st cup of tea in he morning until the last snack of the evening, some days I could never do anything right for her. The last 3 months that she was at home, she stopped sleeping at night, & slept very little during the day. By the end of this period, I was so sleep deprived that I pretty much went nuts.

It took THAT to finally have her placed in a nursing home!

Telling someone that there is a 5 year, 2 year, or 3 year wait for a placement in a nursing home is ridiculous. Doubly ridiculous is telling the family that "they have Chosen" to look after their parent at home. There are no spaces available so, how is this a Choice?!

Pushing care givers over the edge is a recipe for elder abuse & frequently the senior is the abuser of their caregivers.

Comment edited by D. Shields on 2015-02-07 05:31:06

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