What is Elder Abuse?

Any action or inaction by self or others that jeopardizes the health or well-being of any older adult.  It is often divided into six categories:  physical, emotional, financial, sexual, medication and neglect.

Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can take several forms, often with more than one type of abuse occurring at the same time for individuals. National and provincial statistics indicate that the two most identified and reported types of elder abuse are financial and psychological.

Financial Abuse

This is “the misuse of an older person’s funds or property through fraud, trickery, theft or force.” It can include:

  • frauds
  • scams
  • the misuse of money or property
  • convincing an older person to buy a product or give away money
  • stealing money or possessions
  • misusing bank or credit cards
  • misusing joint banking accounts
  • forging a signature on pension cheques or legal documents
  • misusing a power of attorney

Psychological or Emotional Abuse

This may take the form of verbal aggression, humiliation, isolation, intimidation, threats and inappropriate control of activities. In all cases, it diminishes the identity and self-worth of older people. It can also provoke intense fear, anxiety or debilitating stress.

It can include:

  • removal of decision-making power while the person is competent
  • withholding affection for manipulative purposes
  • refusing access to grandchildren
  • denying privacy in institutions
  • forcing older people to do degrading things
  • controlling activities
  • treating them like children
  • attacking their self-esteem
  • intentionally frightening them

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the use of physical force causing discomfort which may or may not result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment. Older persons who are subjected to rough handling or mistreatment are the victims of physical abuse.

It can include:

  • slapping
  • shaking
  • pushing
  • kicking
  • punching
  • striking with an object or weapon
  • deliberate exposure to severe weather
  • unnecessary physical restraint
  • forced confinement
  • failure to provide adequate health care

Sexual Abuse

All unwanted forms of sexual activity, behaviour, assault or harassment to older persons is elder sexual abuse.

It can include:

  • verbal or suggestive behavior
  • fondling
  • sexual intercourse
  • lack of personal privacy
  • being forced to commit degrading acts
  • unnecessary help with dressing/hygiene


This is the intentional or unintentional failure to provide for the needs of someone. Neglect can be active (intentional) or passive (unintentional) and has the effect of failing to provide older persons with basic necessities or care.

It can include:

  • failure to provide a safe, warm and comfortable place to live
  • denial of social contacts
  • failure to provide personal hygiene
  • failure to provide proper food or clean clothing
  • failure to provide aids for daily living, (hearing aids, walkers, canes, wheelchairs, etc.)
  • failure to prevent physical harm
  • abandonment or desertion

Self-neglect, while not technically considered abuse, is also a significant concern. It involves cases whereby, older adults, by choice or ignorance, live in ways that disregard their health or safety needs and can in some cases pose a hazard to others.

Medication Abuse

This is the misuse of an older person’s medications and prescriptions.

  • It can include:
  • withholding medication
  • overmedicating
  • sedation
  • not complying with prescriptions refills

Violation of Human Rights

This is the denial of an older person’s fundamental rights according to legislation, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights.

Violations of Human Rights can include:

  • withholding information
  • denying privacy
  • denying visitors
  • denying religious worship
  • restricting liberty
  • unwarranted confining to a hospital or institution
  • interfering with mail

Source: Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults – Resource and Training Kit for Service Providers, Health Canada 1994

The two most frequently identified and reported types of Elder Abuse in Canada are financial and emotional.

Elder Abuse is usually committed by someone known to the victim, such as a family member, friend or caregiver.