Elder Abuse Issues in Canada

Elder abuse is becoming more and more of an important issue in Canada and other countries, particularly in those with a rapidly aging population. According to recent information collected by Environics for Human Resources and Social Development Canada, as many as 10% of Canadian senior citizens may be victims of one or another forms of elder abuse (SeniorsCanada, 2008).

Polls of Canadians indicate that 96% of the population believes that most elder abuse is hidden from public awareness; almost one quarter of Canadians have concerns that a senior they know may be a victim of elder abuse; more than 90% of Canadians consider elder abuse an important issue for governmental intervention; and more than 10% of the population has specifically searched for information about elder abuse (SeniorsCanada, 2008).

Defining Different Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse consists of any form of conduct toward an elderly person that is abusive, including: (1) physical abuse such as slapping, hitting, confining against their will, and beating; (2) sexual abuse such as any unwanted sexual touching; (3) mental or emotional abuse such as purposely frightening, intimidating, or humiliating them; (4) neglect such as failing to provide adequate nourishment, shelter, or medical care; and (5) financial abuse such as stealing money or misusing legal authority for personal gain (SeniorsCanada, 2008).

Elder citizens are more vulnerable to abuse for several specific reasons: first, they are weaker and less able to defend themselves from younger abusers; second, they become increasingly dependent on others as they age; and third, they are often confined to the home (or long-term care institutions) where abusive conduct toward them occurs in secret and out of public view (LeBreton, 2008).

Understanding the Cause of Elder Abuse

There are numerous causes of elder abuse. Unfortunately, some people are abusive in general and inclined to abusive or violent conduct at any provocation or even for amusement. These types of individuals are likely to be abusive to anyone who is vulnerable in circumstances where there are unlikely to be any consequences. Within families, young adults who resent having to care for elderly relatives may resort to rough physical mistreatment during arguments or disagreements simply because they lose control and lash out violently (SeniorsCanada, 2008).

In long-term care institutions such as nursing homes, some professionals are dedicated to the health, welfare, and protection of elderly residents, but others may approach their jobs mechanically as a means to a paycheck and without any particular concern for their clientele. Since they have no family ties to the elderly in their care, they may sometimes react inappropriately to frustrations or in response to refusal on the part of clients to follow instructions (LeBreton, 2008).

In many cases, the elderly suffer from cognitive decline such as Alzheimer's and other progressive diseases that make it difficult for them to understand instructions or to cooperate with caregivers (SeniorsCanada, 2008). The frustrations that result can trigger abusive reactions in some individuals. Additionally, many elderly become incontinent and must rely on adult diapers and competent patient family members or professional caretakers to keep them clean and maintain the sanitary conditions of their living environment.

In those circumstances, certain individuals may become angry because they do not realize that these types of inconveniences are not within the ability of the elderly individuals to control. In other cases, abuse in connection with incontinence takes the form of neglect, such as where those responsible for caring for the elderly fail to keep them clean and allow them to remain in their own waste…