Seniors/elders face barriers to reporting abuse

Less than one-third of all abuse against older adults gets reported. Why is that?

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It is an appropriate time to learn why abuse against older adults goes unreported, how to recognize it, and what to do about it.

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Age & Opportunity Manitoba (A&O) cites several reasons that can be broken down into themes. One is the importance of relationships. The abused elderly person may feel they rely on their abuser for any number of things ranging from social interaction to shelter. The abused elderly person may not want to bring shame or legal action against their adult child, grandchild or caregiver. The abused elderly person’s social circle may have become so small that their abuser is viewed as their only connection to the outside world.

In addition, the victim may feel embarrassed, ashamed, like he/she is to blame; as well, he/she thinks the abuse is a private issue and should not be shared outside the home. 

Yet, they suffer.

What constitutes senior/elder abuse? A&O defines it as single, repeated or lack of appropriate action, intentional or unintentional, involving financial, physical, sexual and/or psychological matters. Here are some examples:

Johnny knows his grandmother’s pension arrives on the 28th. Johnny visits grandma, asks if he can borrow $200 and that he’ll pay her back the next week. Grandma obliges. Johnny has no intention of paying the money back and in fact, visits the next month, asking for another “loan.” Meanwhile, his grandmother cannot afford her medicines.

Jenny wants her father’s car. After all, he can no longer drive it. But, he’s not ready to part with it. Jenny tells her dad she won’t let him see his grandchildren if he won’t give her the vehicle.

Joey has been living with his grandmother for several years. He’s old enough to get a job, but chooses to hang out with friends, surf the internet and dabble in drugs. His grandmother has been giving him an allowance, but he feels it is no longer enough. He wants a bigger allowance. When his grandmother says she cannot give him anymore, he pushes her down onto the floor and storms out of the house. He returns later, apologizing and saying it will never happen again.

Judy’s grandfather has asked her if she would pick up some groceries and medicines once a week. She agreed. She helped her grandfather in this way for two weeks. The third week, she had an excuse for not helping. The next week she told her grandfather she was too busy. After that, she intermittently picked up groceries and medicines for him, but he often went days and weeks without food and medicine.

These examples are mild forms of abuse. It is seldom that an elderly victim will come forward and report these types of actions. They may want the abuse to stop, but they don’t want the abuser to get into trouble, as the abuser is usually a family member.

What should you do if you suspect a senior/elder is being abused? If you talk with them, avoid using the word “abuse.” Instead, say things like “I notice you’ve lost a lot of weight lately, are you feeling OK?” or “We used to talk on the phone a lot, but you haven’t been picking up lately. I really miss talking with you.” Wherever possible, open the door to conversation.

If possible, get help through the Seniors’ Abuse Support Line at 1-888-896-7183 or the A&O support services line at 1-888-333-3121. There are a number of services available from counselling for the abused, family counselling, support groups and education services.

Submitted by Thompson Seniors Community Resource Council, Inc. Contact the council by email at or by phone at 204-677-0987.

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