Elder Abuse

What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is any action or inaction by ANY individual or institution that results in harm or neglect of that person.
Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse followed by emotional and physical abuse and neglect. It is estimated that four to ten percent (60,000 to 150,000) of Ontario’s seniors experience some form of abuse.

This quick guide is designed to give you practical information to help you if you suspect elder abuse. It tells you what to look for, how to respond, and who to call for help.

Institutional Abuse

Any physical, sexual, psychological, financial abuse or neglect occurring within a facility involving active victimization, withholding or denial of individual care needs, and / or failure to carry out reasonable requests.

Domestic Abuse

Actual or threatened physical, sexual, financial or psychological abuse of a person by someone with whom they have an intimate or familial relationship which aims to instill fear and/or to coercively control an individual.

Physical Abuse

Any act of violence causing injury or physical discomfort including SEXUAL ASSAULT


  • pinching
  • slapping
  • punching
  • rough handling
  • forcible restraint
  • intentional over or under medication

Possible signs of physical abuse:

  • untreated medical problems​ dehydration sexual assault​ history of “accidents”​
  • signs of over or under medication​
  • unexplained injuries in areas normally covered (bruises in various stages of healing, burns or bites)

Psychological Abuse

Any action or comment causing emotional anguish, fear or diminished self-esteem or dignity.

Psychological abuse includes:

  • unwanted institutionalization
  • threats to do harm
  • harassment
  • abandonment
  • imposed isolation
  • removal of decision making choices

Possible signs of psychological abuse:

  • fear
  • cowering
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • withdrawal
  • reluctance to talk openly
  • fearful interactions with caregiver
  • caregiver speaking on behalf of the individual
  • caregiver not allowing the individual privacy

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is the theft or exploitation of a person’s money, property or assets.

Financial abuse includes:

  • fraud
  • forgery
  • misuse of Power of Attorney

**Never give out personal information over the phone or internet to any business that can’t prove it’s Legitimate. Crooks use this information to steal your money and your identity.

Possible signs of financial abuse:

  • overdue bills
  • theft of property
  • forged signatures on cheques
  • unusual or inappropriate activity in bank accounts
  • forcing a person to sign over a will or property
  • overcharging for products and services
  • standard of living not in keeping with income or assets

Elder Neglect

Neglect – the inability to provide basic or personal care needs can be broken down into three categories.

Active neglect – intentional failure of a caregiver to fulfill their care giving responsibilities.

Passive neglect – unintentional failure of a caregiver to fulfill their care giving responsibilities because of a lack of knowledge, skill, illness, infirmity or lack of awareness of community supports / resources.

Self neglect – Although not a form of elder abuse, it is the person’s inability to provide for their own essential needs because of physical infirmity or inability to make sound choices due to addiction, mental illness and / or cognitive impairment.

Neglect is the inability to provide things like:

  • food
  • water
  • required medications
  • shelter
  • hygiene
  • clothing
  • physical aids (such as hearing aids, eye glasses, dentures)
  • exercise and social interaction
  • lack of attention
  • abandonment
  • undue confinement
  • inadequate supervision or safety precautions
  • withholding medical services
  • treatment

What do You Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse?

  • A cknowledge: Suspicion of abuse may develop over time. Accumulate / document evidence.
  • B arriers: Fear of retaliation, withdrawal of caregiver support and breach of confidentiality.
  • U rgency: Assess immediate needs and potential risk of physical harm.
  • S creen: Assess person’s ability to help themselves (i.e. competency).
  • E mpower: Inform person of their rights, resources and assist with establishing a safety plan.
  • R efer: Offer support or consultation from other resources.

How To Ask Questions If You Suspect Elder Abuse

Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a yes/no. “Is everything okay at home?” Is a yes/no question. A cautious person will be able to deflect your concern with a quick ‘yes’.

“Sometimes it can be hard to concentrate if you’re feeling upset or worried about something, can you tell me anything that might be making you feel upset or worried today?”

“Who makes decisions about your life, like how or where you should live?”

“I’ve noticed some changes in your behavior lately that might indicate you are worried or upset about something. Can you tell me about that?”

Possible Intervention


Provide information and support according to the interests expressed by the person. Refer them to services in the community that can help.

Create a Safety Plan:

The the plan may include a change to an element of their environment or their relationship which could result in the elimination of the role of the abuser or context of the abuse. Consider:

  • Home visits, telephone contact, contact with other family and friends, regular appointments.
  • Secure assets e.g. Hide emergency money – say coins for the pay phone – somewhere outside the house.
  • Give copies of important documents and keys to trusted friends or family members.
  • Plan escape by packing a bag of extra clothing, medicine and personal aids (e.g. glasses, hearing aids)
  • Keep phone numbers of friends, relatives, shelters or other trusted individuals handy.