What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is a range of intentional, repeated, harmful acts against older adults (seniors) that cause them pain or neglect. These acts are often committed by someone close to the elderly person they trust.

Eder abuse can deeply affect the physical and mental health of seniors. Certain groups are at a higher risk of experiencing abuse. Seniors who are physically, cognitively, or emotionally vulnerable and those experiencing social isolation are among the most susceptible. Elderly women are also at greater risk of experiencing physical abuse compared to men.

In Canada, this type of abuse can be a crime. According to Statistics Canada, senior abuse is a seriously underreported crime. Seniors suffering from abuse often feel trapped and suffer in silence because they don’t know who to turn to for help, feel ashamed, fearful, or lacking in resources. 

Signs of Abuse 

According to advocate organizations for seniors, there are many signs to look out for that indicate a senior might be abused.

Some signs include: 

  • fear, anxiety, depression or passiveness towards a family member or caregiver
  • low self-esteem, withdrawing socially
  • unexplained physical injuries
  • lack of eye contact, acting nervous with healthcare providers, caregivers, or around other persons (feelings of shame and fear)
  • reluctance to talk openly, waiting for a caregiver to respond to questions asked of them
  • self-neglect 
  • dehydration, poor nutrition/hygiene
  • improper use of medication
  • insomnia/sleep deprivation/fatigue, listlessness
  • confusion about legal or financial documents (will, banking, investments, etc.)
  • a sudden drop in cash flow or financial holdings
  • hesitation to speak about the situation
  • being under/over medicated o
  • open wounds, cuts, punctures, untreated injuries
  • sprains, dislocations, internal injuries
  • broken eyeglasses
  • signs of being restrained

*Note: This list is not exhaustive.

Examples of Elder Abuse and Where to Get Help

There are different forms of elder abuse, and it’s important to learn to identify them. There are also resources available to guide you on what to do if you are experiencing abuse or if you know or suspect an elder is being abused.

Physical Abuse 

Physical abuse is an intentional act of violence that may not always result in a bodily injury or trauma but causes physical discomfort or pain.

Examples include:

  • Hitting or pushing
  • Keeping you confined in a room, bed or chair
  • Neglect or abandonment (not providing you with basic needs)
  • Broken bones, bruises, bumps, cuts, grip marks

Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is forced or nonconsensual sexual touching, penetration or any form of unwelcomed sexual advances.

Examples include:

  • Unwanted touching
  • Sexual assault and battery
  • Non-consensual sexual photography
  • Rape
  • Forced nudity

For help, contact:

Senior’s Safety Line, Assaulted Women’s Helpline is a 24-hour confidential support crisis line with support and referrals in many different languages -1-866-299-1011

Lumicare -1-833-338-5862  Email: [email protected]

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is any illegal or unauthorized use of your finances that benefits another person other than yourself. Financial abuse can be difficult to identify in the early stages. It’s often discovered after a pattern of actions form or when a bigger problem arises, like large sums of money go missing from a bank account. It’s estimated that financial abuse among seniors is the most common form of abuse. Loneliness, early onset of some medical conditions and poor health conditions are some of the factors that contribute to a senior’s vulnerability to this type of abuse. 

Examples include:

  • Forcing you to sell your property
  • Stealing your money or possessions 
  • Fraud or faking documents to steal your money or assets
  • Misuse of power of attorney, forcing you to sign a will or other financial documents.
  • Pressuring you into purchasing a service or product (especially one you don’t need)

*It's important to take action to report financial abuse of seniors as soon as you suspect it. If you’re unsure, seek help from relevant authorities and support services that can help address and prevent financial exploitation.

For help, contact:

Seniors Crime Stoppers 1-800-222-TIPS (8477)

Senior Support Officers (SSO) - many police departments have SSOs who specialize in senior crime - Toronto Seniors Helpline  416-217-2077 Long Distance: 1-877-621-2077

Halton Police  905-546-4925

911 for emergencies

Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT) can assist with intervening if the person is mentally incapable and a suspected victim of crime 1-800-366-0335 

Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE)is a community-based legal clinic for low-income senior citizens. ACE provides direct legal services to low-income seniors 416-598-2656

Legal Aid Ontario connects low-income Ontarians to legal aid services, assistance and information with help in over 200 languages 1-800-668-8258

Psychological Abuse

Emotional and psychological is any verbal or non-verbal action that diminishes a person’s sense of identity, dignity and self-worth.

Examples include:

  • Hurtful words intended to make you feel unworthy
  • Not considering your wishes and removing decision-making powers
  • Not respecting your belongings or pets
  • Threatening you, ” Give me money, or I won’t take you to your next appointment.”
  • Treating you like a child
  • Forcing you to make decisions against your will
  • Threats of institutionalization – “Do what I say, or I’ll put you in a care facility.”
  • Isolating the senior from access to telephone, family and friends, neighbours, or attending social gatherings, 
  • Refusing access to grandchildren

For help, contact:

Senior’s Safety Line, Assaulted Women’s Helpline is a 24-hour confidential support crisis line with support and referrals in many different languages -1-866-299-1011

Lumicare -1-833-338-5862 Email: [email protected]

Toronto Seniors Helpline  416-217-2077 Long Distance: 1-877-621-2077

For More Information

  • Seniors and the Law - Clear language publications on legal topics affecting seniors.
  • About Elder Abuse - Information about elder abuse, how to recognize it, how to prevent it, and answers to common questions. From the Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario.
Last updated: February 20, 2024 4001330