Elder abuse is a serious and growing injustice in our community.
Studies indicate that between 8% to 10% of older adults experience some form of abuse, Based on Census data (2020), there are currently 2 million older adults over the age of 65 residing in Ontario, which translates to over 200,000 older adults in Ontario alone, experiencing, or at-risk of elder abuse.
The magnitude and extent of the elder abuse cases occurring in Ontario is not fully known, due in part to limited data collection and underreported cases.
It can be very difficult and emotional to start this conversation.
- Try to talk to the person when you are alone with them. Talk about what you have seen and heard.
- Make sure the older adult knows it is not their fault and they are not alone. Approach the situation with care and concern, without using judgemental language or jumping to conclusions.
- Reassure the person that what they share will be held in confidence.
- Listen carefully to what they say and let them know you are there to support them. Ask them what they would like to do about the situation and respect their decision even if you don’t agree with it.
To find available help in your area, go to our Community Supports page.
You can also contact the Seniors Safety Line to speak to a trained counselor at 1-866-299-1011.
It can be hard to admit that someone is harming you, but speaking with someone you trust can help you explore your options and decide what to do. Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed to seek assistance, it is not your fault. There are agencies that can help you understand the situation, advise you on solutions, help you find support, and inform you about your rights. Remember that you have the right to be treated with respect and dignity.
If you have questions or would like to speak to a trained counsellor, call the Seniors Safety Line at 1-866-299-1011.
- Learn to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect.
- Talk to the older person about what you have noticed. Take the time to listen, you may be the first person who has offered to help.
- Reassure them that you care and that it’s not their fault.
- Ask them what they would like to do. It is important that you respect their decision.
- Educate yourself about elder abuse, rights, and available services to better support the person. The Seniors Safety Line can provide referrals to legal services, community services and more.
- You can also reach out to someone you trust (family member, friend, health care professional, faith leader) for additional support.
- Stay in contact with the older person regularly.
- If you believe the older adult is in imminent danger, contact the police.
Recognize the Signs
- Abuse can happen anywhere and to anyone.
- Educate yourself on the main forms of elder abuse: physical, emotional, financial, sexual and neglect.
- Often, you may experience more than one form of abuse.
- Retain as much control as possible over your own life and everyday decisions to reduce the risk of abuse.
- When someone who is in a position of power is taking over decision making and taking advantage of you, it is time to seek support and assistance.
Know your Rights
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects everyone, including older adults.
- Everyone has the right to be safe and free from abuse. It is never acceptable for anyone to abuse you.
Overcome your Fears
- It is not your fault that abuse is happening.
- You should not feel shame, embarrassment or be fearful.
- Abusive relationships can be difficult to deal with alone, reaching out to friends, family and others you trust for support can be helpful. Abuse can also reduce your sense of safety and self-confidence, so speaking to family, friends or other trusted persons can be helpful dealing with your emotions.
- Do not get discouraged if you are not believed, it is very important to continue to seek support.
Understand your Options for Getting Help
- Tell someone you trust and will listen to you, such as a friend, family member, health-care professional, community care-agency, faith leader, etc.
- Choose a space that is quiet, private and where you feel safe to talk to help avoid interruptions or others overhearing
- Inform persons or agencies providing support of any language or communication barriers, so appropriate translation or ASL services can be arranged to meet your needs.
- Learn about available support services in your area who can provide help.
- Call the Seniors Safety Line for information and support.
If you suspect or have evidence that neglect or elder abuse is taking place in a Long-Term Care Home, it is mandatory to report it.
The Long-Term Care Homes Act outlines specifically the duties and obligations for reporting and complaints of abuse and neglect. Section 24 of the Act states:
24 (1) A person who has reasonable grounds to suspect that any of the following has occurred or may occur shall immediately report the suspicion and the information upon which it is based to the Director:
- Improper or incompetent treatment or care of a resident that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to the resident.
- Abuse of a resident by anyone or neglect of a resident by the licensee or staff that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to the resident.
- Unlawful conduct that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to a resident.
- Misuse or misappropriation of a resident’s money.
- Misuse or misappropriation of funding provided to a licensee under this Act, the Local Health System Integration Act, 2006 or the Connecting Care Act, 2019. 2007, c. 8, ss. 24 (1), 195 (2); 2019, c. 5, Sched. 3, s. 12 (3).
Reports should also be made to the Long-Term Care ACTION Line at 1-866-876-7658. The Long-Term Care Action Line is a service to hear concerns and complaints from persons receiving service from long-term care homes and home and community care support services organizations. It is available in English and French. Hours of operation: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m., 7 days a week
To learn more, visit our Reporting page.
There are many reasons why older adults and the people around them may be unwilling, unable or hesitant to disclose or report elder abuse.
Older adults may…
- Not recognize the signs of elder abuse
- Worry that no one will believe them
- Feel shame or embarrassment
- Be afraid of losing their relationship with the abuser and/or with family members and do not want to get them into trouble
- Feel dependent on the abuser who may be their caregiver, friend or family member and fear that the relation/situation will get worse
- Fear or distrust law enforcement due to previous negative experiences
- Experience a language or literacy barrier that limits communication
- Experience isolation that prevents any opportunity to report
- Have some cognitive or physical limitations
- Be unaware of where to report
- Not recognize the signs of elder abuse
- Feel uncomfortable asking questions
- Be unaware of their obligation to report
- Lack trust in the reporting system
- Fear reprisal from co-workers and/or family members
- Fear alienating caregivers and patients
- Have misconceptions about the laws
Other people may:
- Think that it is none of their business, that it is a family matter. Family issues are seen as private and are not talked about. People may not want to interfere and so abuse goes unreported
- Believe that reporting will make the situation worse
- Not know what to say or how to start the conversation
- Think that nothing can be done to help the older adult
- Not feel comfortable or confident enough to get involved
- Feel concerned about losing their relationship with the older adult
- Be unfamiliar with available resources, supports and options
- Be unaware of where and how to report
- Not have permission from the older adult to report
In Ontario, mandatory reporting laws apply if you suspect or witness elder abuse in long-term care homes or retirement homes.
The obligation to report applies to everyone, except residents of the home. People visiting a home must report, even if the person they are visiting is not the one being abused.
Social workers and members of health-care professions that are regulated by the government must report, even if it is information that they would normally keep confidential.
There are no laws that require anyone to report elder abuse if the older adult resides in their own home or in any setting besides a long-term care or retirement home.
If you suspect elder abuse, but the older adult is not in imminent danger, speak to them about the situation, discuss solutions, inform them about their rights, and offer support and options for services. It is important to respect the personal autonomy and decision of the older person, who may choose to accept or reject help – even if you do not agree with their choices. If they are not ready to address the situation, offer your personal support until they are ready to take action.
In some situations, older adults may lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions, due to illness, injury or other causes. As a result, they may be living in an unsafe environment and be vulnerable to abuse and neglect. In these cases, it may be necessary to take steps to protect their safety and well-being, while also ensuring that their prior wishes and rights are respected.
The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT), is required by law to investigate if a person is alleged to be incapable and suffering, or at risk of suffering, “serious adverse effects” of a financial or personal nature as a result.
The OPGT will determine if the case falls within their mandate, and discuss appropriate alternative solutions to the problem with the person making a referral and, if necessary, may refer to an Investigator for further inquiry. If outside their mandate, the OPGT will provide information about other appropriate resources. The law has safeguards, including a court process, to ensure that people’s decision-making rights are not altered without careful consideration and due process.
Seeking legal advice may also be helpful to find legal remedies to the situation. The Law Society Referral Service (LSRS) can refer you to a lawyer for a free 30-minute consultation. Complete the online request form for a referral.
For those unable to use the online service, a crisis line is available at 1-855-947-5255. Open, Monday to Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
There is no specific crime of “elder abuse” under the Canadian Criminal Code. However, actions such as theft of power of attorney, fraud, theft, assault, sexual assault, uttering threats, criminal harassment, and failure to provide the necessaries of life are criminal offences and crimes under the Canadian Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code does include a provision (s.718.2) that requires the court to take into account for the purpose of sentencing, as aggravating factors, evidence that the offence was motivated by age- or disability-based bias, prejudice or hate.
To learn more about offences under the Criminal Code which may apply if an older adult is being abused, consult our Reporting page.
Elder abuse can have long term effects on the health and well-being of older persons. It can harm their physical and mental health, damage social and family relationships, cause devastating financial loss, lead to early death, and more. Abuse of any form can leave the abused person feeling isolated, fearful, and depressed.
Elder abuse not only impacts the individuals who experience it, but also the wider community. Elder Abuse also incurs significant health care and social service costs.
Elder abuse can leave its victims more socially isolated, shut out from opportunities to participate in and enrich our communities.