What you can do when abuse or neglect is happening to an older adult in your life (2023)

What you can do when abuse or neglect is happening to an older adult in your life (1)

Organization: Public Health Agency of Canada

Date published: 2017-05-19

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"It's Not Right!" Neighbours, Friends and Families for Older Adults

Everyone has the right to be safe and free from abuse or neglect. No one should experience abuse. "It's Not Right!"

As neighbours, friends and family members, you can do several things to help.

(Video) Elder Abuse and Neglect: What You Should Know

You don't have to "fix" the problem. Caring about the people around you and paying attention when there are signs of trouble are important steps. Small actions can make a big difference.

What we all need to know about abuse

  • "Ageism" is discrimination against older adults because of their age. Ageism is a factor in abuse of older adults.
  • Everyone has the right to live without fear
  • Everyone has the right to have control over their life
  • It is abuse if someone uses their influence or ability to limit or control the rights and freedoms of an older adult
  • The abuse is never the older adult's fault
  • Most older adults who experience abuse are healthy and capable of making their own decisions
  • Many types of abuse are against the law; all abuse is unacceptable
  • Older people affected by abuse are often isolated and it can be hard to see the signs
  • Impolite behaviour or rudeness is not abuse —it is important to understand that abuse means there is an abuse of power involved
  • You cannot control the abusive person's behaviour
  • It is not your responsibility to "make" the abuse stop, but you can help older adults find support
  • Everyone in an abusive relationship needs help

What you can do when you suspect abuse of an older adult

Neighbours, friends and family members are often aware of the signs of abuse in an older adult's life, but they may not know what to do about it. Here are 3 things that everyone can do to make a difference:

  • 1. See it! "It's not right!" Recognize the warning signs of abuse.
  • 2. Name it! "That looks/sounds like abuse." Talk to the older adult or someone you trust about your concerns—overcome your hesitation to help.
  • 3. Check it! "Is it abuse? What can I do to help?" Ask questions, check with abuse experts about what to do next, check for danger—suggest safety planning.

What do you need to learn? What should I say?

1. See it! "It's not right!"

  • Learn about abuse so that you can recognize the different warning signs. Abuse can be physical, but it can also be psychological, sexual, spiritual, financial, or neglect. The warning signs are not always obvious. All forms of abuse cause harm.
  • It is easy to ignore warning signs and to tell yourself that you must be mistaken or that it's "not that bad" because it's "only" one warning sign. Trust your instincts when something makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • A warning sign is like seeing the tip of an iceberg; there is likely much more going on below the surface.
  • Some people think abuse is "normal" or understandable. Abuse is never acceptable.
  • When you see a warning sign, say to yourself, "It's not right!" This will help you move to the next step

2. Name it! "That looks/sounds like abuse."

  • Overcome your hesitation to help
  • If it is safe, talk to the person who you think is being abused—wait for a time when you are alone and not likely to be interrupted. Approach the person with care and concern: "I heard your daughter yelling at you again and I am worried about you."
  • 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. "I saw 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."
  • Find support for yourself. Talk to someone you trust about what to do next or consult a professional.

3. 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 local police.
  • If you have questions and want to speak to police, ask to speak to an officer who has been trained in domestic or family violence.
  • 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 say it was ok?"
    • "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?"
  • Good questions you can ask older adults:
    • Do you feel safe?
    • Is anyone in your life hurting you or making you feel uncomfortable?
    • What do you want to do? How can I help?
  • Be supportive and listen. Remember that it may be difficult for them to talk at first. Let them know that you are available to listen whenever they want. Often what older adults need most is someone who will listen.
  • Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult situation. Let your friend or family member know that whatever is happening is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support available.
  • Encourage them to talk to someone who can provide help and guidance. Find a local organization that provides counseling or support groups (i.e. seniors' organization, family violence service, local health centres). Offer to go with them to talk to family and friends. If they have to go to the police, court or a lawyer, offer to go along for moral support.
  • Remember that you cannot "rescue" them. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about being mistreated, that person has the right to decide about the next steps. It's important for you to support and help the older adult find a way to safety and peace.
  • If you are concerned that an older adult is not able to make informed decisions, do not try to make decisions for the person. Consult with a local health centre that serves seniors and ask how you can best be supportive.

Other suggestions

  • Be patient. Listen carefully. Allow the older adults to tell their story in their own time. It may take many conversations before the whole story is told.
  • Encourage them to be their own advocate and to find their own solution about what to do next. This can include a decision to get help from an abuse expert. People of any age are much more likely to take action if they make their own plan.
  • Ask them what you can do, respect their decisions even when you don't agree
  • If a family member is a caregiver for the older adult, make sure they have the resources and support they need. Stay involved, even if you live at a distance.
  • You can be supportive in different ways. Provide relief, offer to problem solve or listen to hear about frustrations and challenges.
  • Document any abuse that you see —write down the date and what happened
  • Don't confront or accuse the abusive person, who may take it out on the older adult after you leave
  • Learn about safety planning
  • Find out what local services are available in your area

When support is not wanted

Many people don't want to talk about abuse. They may be afraid of and/or feel protective toward the person who is acting abusively. It is hard to ask for help. If the person you are worried about denies the abuse and you are still concerned:

(Video) Elder abuse can happen to anyone, even your parents. How to prevent it. | Jane Walsh | TEDxMileHigh

  • Assure them they can talk to you anytime
  • Keep the lines of communication open
  • Give them the warning signs brochure How You Can Identify Abuse and Help Older Adults at Risk and talk about what you have noticed
  • Show compassion; don't allow yourself to become frustrated or angry. It can be hard to understand the decisions of others, but they should be respected.
  • If you have immediate concerns about safety, call the police

Overcome your hesitation to help

Once you see abuse, you may feel uncertain about becoming involved. You are not alone, it is understandable to hesitate, but you will need to find a way to overcome your hesitation.

These are some concerns you may have about whether you should help:

ConcernsPoints to Consider
You feel it's none of your businessAbuse causes great harm and suffering and will not go away without help. It's everyone's business
You don't know what to sayYou can say that you care and are concerned. Listening is important too.
You might make things worseDoing nothing leaves the person alone in a situation that may get worse if there is no help
You are afraid the abuse will be turned toward you or your familySpeak to the person being abused alone. Let the police know if you receive threats.
You are afraid the person being abused will be angry with youMaybe, but the person will know you care enough to try
You are afraid of becoming involvedYou can talk to an abuse expert or a service provider anonymously
You wish to maintain a relationship with both people involved (i.e. both are important members of your family, both are friends, etc.)One friend is being abused and is living in fear. Both friends need help.
You believe that if people want your help, they will ask for itPeople affected by abuse may be afraid and ashamed to ask for help or not know where to get help
You think it is a private matterIt isn't when someone is being hurt

See also

"It's Not Right!" Neighbours, Friends and Families for Older Adults

(Video) Abuse & Exploitation | Aging Matter | NPT Reports

How You Can Identify Abuse and Help Older Adults at Risk
What you can do to keep yourself safe from abuse

For more information

To learn more on what the Government of Canada is doing for seniors or to find services and support in your province or territory, visit www.seniors.gc.ca and search for "Elder Abuse" or call 1800 O-Canada (1-800-622-6232, TTY: 1-800-926-9105).


How do you get rid of elder abuse? ›

How to Help Prevent Elder Abuse
  1. Keeping Elders Engaged in Their Communities. ...
  2. Supporting Primary Caregivers. ...
  3. Keeping Elders Active. ...
  4. Protecting Elders From High-Risk Caregivers. ...
  5. Considering Financial Abuse. ...
  6. Finding Community Resources.
Mar 4, 2020

What are some of the consequences of abuse against older adults? ›

Consequences. Abuse of older people can have serious physical and mental health, financial, and social consequences, including, for instance, physical injuries, premature mortality, depression, cognitive decline, financial devastation and placement in nursing homes.

What to do if an elderly person is not taking care of themselves? ›

Get help from Adult Protective Services if you are concerned an adult may be self-neglecting. Call 911 if the person needs immediate medical attention or is in danger of immediate harm.

When elder abuse is suspected Which of the following actions should be taken first? ›

Call the police or 9-1-1 immediately if someone you know is in immediate, life-threatening danger. , long-term care ombudsman, or the police. If you have been the victim of abuse, exploitation, or neglect, you are not alone. Many people care and can help.

How do you treat aging abusive parents? ›

Options for Handling a Toxic Elderly Parent's Care
  1. Begin going to therapy. Discussing your past and working through your feelings with a trained counselor can be a helpful exercise. ...
  2. Read The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living. ...
  3. Hire help. ...
  4. Consider guardianship. ...
  5. Accept their flaws.
Apr 27, 2022

How does years of abuse affect a person? ›

Traumatic childhood events can change the way a person's brain and body work. Trauma can affect the person's emotions, memory, thinking and sense of self. Trauma can also affect relationships. Women most often develop the effects of trauma if, as children, they felt helpless and trapped by abuse.

What are the long term effects of neglect in adults? ›

Poor mental and emotional health. Experiencing childhood maltreatment is a risk factor for depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders throughout adulthood.

What are the six long term effects of abuse? ›

These changes to your brain can lead to long-term emotional effects of child abuse.
You might experience:
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Trouble learning.
  • Trouble paying attention.
  • Memory problems.
  • Problems with self-control.
  • Low self-esteem‌
Sep 9, 2021

How do you help an elderly person who lives alone? ›

Loneliness in the elderly: how to help
  1. Start a conversation. It's not always easy to know who or how to help. ...
  2. Offer practical help. ...
  3. Share your time. ...
  4. Help with household tasks. ...
  5. Share a meal. ...
  6. Watch out for signs of winter illness. ...
  7. Useful resources.

How do you make an elderly person feel independent? ›

In practice
  1. Encourage them to do as much as they are able. ...
  2. Involve them in everyday decisions, like choosing their own meals or social activities.
  3. Give them as much agency as possible in larger decisions, such as care options or adaptations to the home.

When should you intervene with elderly parents? ›

Signs a senior needs help with their health
  • Changes in weight. ...
  • Changes in sleep patterns. ...
  • Emotional changes. ...
  • New bruises. ...
  • Trouble managing medications. ...
  • Inability to follow medical directions. ...
  • Increased confusion. ...
  • A home that isn't being maintained properly.
Oct 13, 2022

What steps should be taken if abuse or neglect is suspected? ›

All states have a system to receive and respond to reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. If you suspect a child is being harmed, or has been harmed, you should report your concerns to the appropriate authorities, such as child protective services, in the state where child maltreatment is occurring.

What actions steps would you take if you do suspect abuse? ›

If you think a child might be being abused but they haven't said anything to you, there are things you can do which can help.
  • Talk to the child. Most children who're being abused find it very difficult to talk about. ...
  • Keep a diary. ...
  • Talk to their teacher or health visitor. ...
  • Speak to other people. ...
  • Talk to us.

What should you do if you suspect a patient has been abused? ›

If the suspected abuse is an emergency—a life-threatening situation or one involving immediate danger—call the police or 911 immediately. Otherwise, report suspected abuse by calling the appropriate county agency.

Should you give up your life to care for elderly parent? ›

Caring for adult parents doesn't necessarily mean giving up your life to care for elderly parents. It can seem like you need to spend all your time focused on caregiving, but that's not true. As a caregiver, it's essential that you practice self-care. You can start by identifying and managing stress.

How do you deal with an aging parent who refuses help? ›

Aging Parents Refusing Help: How to Respond
  1. Evaluate Your Parent's Situation. Before anything, take a look at your parent's living conditions, activities, and mental health. ...
  2. Focus On The Positives. ...
  3. Make It About You. ...
  4. Enlist Experts (If You Have To) ...
  5. Give Options. ...
  6. Start Small.
Nov 8, 2019

What are 5 signs of elder abuse? ›

Watch for these signs of abuse:
  • Seems depressed, confused, or withdrawn.
  • Isolated from friends and family.
  • Has unexplained bruises, burns, or scars.
  • Appears dirty, underfed, dehydrated, over-or undermedicated, or not receiving needed care for medical problems.
  • Has bed sores or other preventable conditions.

What are signs of a toxic mother? ›

Signs you might have a toxic parent include:
  • They're self-centered. They don't think about your needs or feelings.
  • They're emotional loose cannons. They overreact, or create drama.
  • They overshare. ...
  • They seek control. ...
  • They're harshly critical. ...
  • They lack boundaries.

How do you help someone with emotionally abusive parents? ›

Supporting Someone in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship: Do's and Don'ts
  1. What is Emotional Abuse? ...
  2. DO Listen. ...
  3. DON'T Shame, Judge, or Critique. ...
  4. DO Believe Someone if They Tell You They're Experiencing Emotional Abuse. ...
  5. DON'T Make Excuses for the Abuser. ...
  6. DO Share and be Honest About Your Concerns. ...
  7. DON'T Make it All About You.

What happens to a person who is constantly abused? ›

Long-term emotional abuse can also result in several health problems, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic pain, and more.

Does abuse affect personality? ›

The findings suggest that childhood abuse may have a long lasting effect on mental health over the life course by influencing the formation of personality traits through developmental periods.

How do you recover years of abuse? ›

Tips for Healing from Emotional Abuse
  1. Learn to recognize emotional abuse. Understanding emotional abuse will help you begin to process and cope with what you've been through. ...
  2. Remember that it's not your fault. ...
  3. Document your feelings. ...
  4. Focus on your own needs. ...
  5. Create a support system. ...
  6. Start therapy.
Sep 29, 2022

How does neglect affect personality? ›

Correlates with significant risk for emotional and interpersonal difficulties, including high levels of negativity, poor impulse control, and personality disorders, as well as low levels of enthusiasm, confidence, and assertiveness.

How does neglect abuse affect a person? ›

Effects of neglect

problems with brain development. taking risks, like running away from home, using drugs and alcohol or breaking the law. getting into dangerous relationships. difficulty with relationships later in life, including with their own children.

What are 5 effects of abuse? ›

developmental delay, eating disorders and physical ailments. permanent physical injuries or death. violent, aggressive or criminal behaviour or other behavioural problems. drug and alcohol abuse and high-risk sexual behaviour.

What abuse does to your brain? ›

Emotional abuse is linked to thinning of certain areas of the brain that help you manage emotions and be self-aware — especially the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe. Epigenetic changes and depression. Research from 2018 has connected childhood abuse to epigenetic brain changes that may cause depression.

Can abuse affect you years later? ›

The long term effects of abuse and neglect can include: emotional difficulties like anger, anxiety, sadness or low self-esteem. mental health problems like depression, eating disorders, self harm or suicidal thoughts. problems with drugs or alcohol.

What type of abuse happens the most? ›

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse.

What do elderly need most? ›

What Services Do Seniors Need Most?
  • Personal Care. One of the most in-demand services for seniors is personal care. ...
  • Medication Management. ...
  • Nutrition and Meal Support. ...
  • Mobility and Transportation. ...
  • Healthcare. ...
  • Money Management. ...
  • Safety and Security. ...
  • Social Interaction Opportunities.

How do you motivate the elderly to live? ›

5 Ways to Encourage Seniors
  1. Encourage few and manageable goals.
  2. Encourage affirming self-identity.
  3. Encourage technologies.
  4. Encourage the feeling of usefulness.
  5. Encourage adaptive, flexible coping skills.
Sep 19, 2020

How do you deal with difficult people in the elderly? ›

How to Communicate With Difficult Seniors and Older Adults
  1. Exercise Patience and Compassion. It goes without saying that patience and compassion are often needed when dealing with the elderly. ...
  2. Ask Instead of Order. ...
  3. Ask Instead of Assume. ...
  4. Use “I” instead of “You” Language. ...
  5. Offer Choices Whenever Possible. ...
  6. Set Consequences.
Dec 7, 2014

How do you give an elderly person a purpose? ›

Having an important daily practice, such as meditation, yoga, walking, volunteering, playing an instrument, or writing in a journal can produce a sense of purpose. Encourage your loved one to develop an engaging daily practice.

What happens when you can't take care of an elderly parent? ›

Some elder care options include: Having siblings or other family members help provide care. Moving a loved one into an elder care facility. Hiring in-home caregivers to look after your loved one.

When can an elderly person no longer live alone? ›

Elderly parents who cannot take care of their basic needs such as cleaning, cooking, bathing, walking, or taking their medications at the right time should move into an assisted living facility. Mental, emotional, or cognitive decline can also indicate that your elderly loved one is no longer safe living alone.

How do you intervene with elderly parents? ›

How to Help Aging Parents Without Being Overbearing
  1. Let Aging Parents Take the Lead. If possible, do tasks alongside your parents instead of for them. ...
  2. Enable Parents to Dictate How and When You Help. ...
  3. Be Respectful. ...
  4. Set Up Safety Nets. ...
  5. Prioritize Their Well-Being.

What is the first step in dealing with abuse of any kind? ›

If you need help right away and are in danger, call 911.

Many teachers and counselors have training in how to recognize and report abuse. If the first adult you tell does not seem to listen, keep telling adults until someone responds. Getting help and support is an important first step.

What are the procedures for responding to concerns about abuse and neglect? ›

Responding to concerns raised by members of the public
  • make a referral to local authority children's social care.
  • make a referral to the lead practitioner, if the case is open and there is one.
  • make a referral to a specialist agency or professional e.g. educational psychology or a speech and language therapist.

What are the appropriate strategies to deal with abuse? ›

How to deal with abuse
  • setting boundaries.
  • educating yourself on abuse.
  • reaching out to a therapist.
  • telling loved ones what's happening.
  • discreetly documenting everything that's happened.
  • creating an exit plan.

How do you deal with aggressive or abusive patients? ›

Dealing with an aggressive patient takes care, judgement and self-control.
  1. Remain calm, listen to what they are saying, ask open-ended questions.
  2. Reassure them and acknowledge their grievances.
  3. Provide them with an opportunity to explain what has angered them. ...
  4. Maintain eye contact, but not prolonged.
Jan 22, 2015

What is the root cause of elder abuse? ›

Whether intentional or not, abuse may occur as a result of ignorance surrounding the aging process and the needs of elderly people. Abuse and Neglect can result from the false negative stereotype of older adults having no useful role, combined with non-acceptance of the increasing dependence that can accompany old age.

What are the 7 signs of elder abuse? ›

WEAAD also published 7 signs of elder abuse that we all need to watch for:
  • Lack of basic amenities.
  • Cluttered, filthy living environment.
  • Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior.
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Unpaid bills, new credit cards, and/or increased cash withdrawals.

What are the 7 types of elder abuse? ›

The 7 types of elder abuse are:
  • Neglect.
  • Physical abuse.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Abandonment.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse.
  • Financial abuse.
  • Self-neglect.
May 9, 2022

Which person is at greatest risk for elder abuse? ›

Those at the greatest risk for elder abuse are home-bound elders, women, individuals older than 80, and those who live in isolated conditions.

What is the most common form of elder mistreatment? ›

The most common type of elder abuse is neglect. Some examples of neglect are not giving them their medicine, protecting them from danger, not providing food or water, and not taking care of their hygiene if they are unable to do so themselves.

What kind of abuse is ignoring the elderly person? ›

Keeping that person from seeing close friends and relatives is another form of emotional abuse. Neglect occurs when the caregiver does not try to respond to the older adult's needs. This may include physical, emotional, and social needs, or withholding food, medications, or access to health care.

What are six forms that elder abuse might take? ›

Here are 6 most common types of elder abuse:
  • Physical Abuse. ...
  • Emotional or Psychological Abuse. ...
  • Sexual Abuse. ...
  • Neglect or Abandonment by Caregivers. ...
  • Financial Exploitation. ...
  • Healthcare Fraud & Abuse.

How can you prevent and respond to abuse? ›

Educate yourself and others.

Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse. After-school activities, parent education classes, mentoring programs, and respite care are some of the many ways to keep children safe from harm. Be a voice in support of these efforts in your community.

What to do if you suspect a person was abused? ›

If the suspected abuse is an emergency—a life-threatening situation or one involving immediate danger—call the police or 911 immediately. Otherwise, report suspected abuse by calling the appropriate county agency.

What are the signs of decline in elderly? ›

9 Warning Signs of Deteriorating Health in Aging Adults
  • Changes in Personality. Is there something just different about your aging loved one? ...
  • Forgetfulness. ...
  • Difficulty Going Up Stairs. ...
  • Loss of Appetite. ...
  • Unexplained Bruising. ...
  • Inordinately Disorganized House. ...
  • Bad Hygiene. ...
  • Not Making Sound Decisions.
Feb 10, 2020

What is the difference between elder abuse and neglect? ›

Elder neglect is defined as the withholding of basic care needs that an elderly person requires for their health, safety or well-being. While elder abuse is intentional, elder neglect can be accidental or negligent.

What are the four major factors of elder abuse? ›

A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming a perpetrator of elder abuse. They are contributing factors and may or may not be direct causes. Understanding these factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

What is passive neglect? ›

Passive neglect is the non-willful failure to fulfill care-taking responsibilities because of inadequate caregiver knowledge, infirmity, or disputing the value of prescribed services. Self-Neglect. This is the adult's inability, due to physical and/or mental impairments, to perform tasks essential to caring for oneself ...


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