ELDER ABUSE: A familiar but often misunderstood term
Over 17% of Canada’s population is 65 years of age or older (1). Further, 1 in 5 Canadians has experienced caring for someone living with a form of dementia (2) and it is projected that by the year 2030, there will be 912,000 (3) Canadians living with dementia. As Canada’s aging and vulnerable populations continue to grow, we must stay alert to support the prevention of elder abuse by understanding its boundaries, causes, and symptoms.
What is “Elder Abuse”?
Elder abuse has a broad scope and refers to any act or omission within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust that harms a senior person’s health or welfare.
In legal terms, we refer to “elder abuse” as a breach of trust. The stories that frequent the news and media foster the impression that caregivers are the frequent elder abusers—but that is short-sighted and not supported by the data. Elder abuse can occur in the home, long-term care homes, other residential settings, or in the community. More often than you may think, the “abusers” are friends, relatives, landlords, and neighbours in addition to caregivers—not to mention the general fraudster.
The term ‘abuse’ tends to conjure up thoughts of physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse (verbal), sexual abuse, and neglect. Additionally, elder abuse may include abuse of a power of attorney document or other legal authority, fraud, theft, threats, misuse of funds, and coercion.
What causes elder abuse?
- Burn-out or Significant Stress – Caregiver burn-out is typified by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion due to caregivers not getting the help they need or trying to do more than they are physically, mentally, and financially able. When overwhelmed with stress, caregivers may lash out or take advantage of those who depend on their care.
- “No one is watching” – Caregivers, family, and friends are often given significant control or power over senior family members with little to no oversight, such as through a Power of Attorney document. Behind the scenes, these decision-makers may be acting against the interest of those who depend on their care. When the senior’s capacity has diminished, some people are tempted to engage in self-benefitting behaviour – particularly when there is a feeling that “no one will ever know.”
- Loneliness and wanting to feel needed – It is not uncommon for older adults to experience loneliness, particularly when they have lost their spouse and/or have no children or relatives around them. Loneliness can contribute to vulnerability – particularly to fraudsters or other ill-intentioned individuals who prey on those vulnerabilities and take advantage of one’s wanting to feel needed or helpful.
- Changing Technology – Ever-evolving technology allows unscrupulous individuals the opportunity to use sophisticated methods to trick, convince, and confuse seniors into entering undesired transactions (e.g., purchasing a new furnace) or transferring their money to a scammer/fraudster.
Elder Abuse Prevention
Preventing elder abuse starts with knowledge of the different forms and causes of abuse, enabling us to spot instances of abuse or situations that pose a risk to an older adult who may be susceptible.
NIKA LAW’S Elder Law Practice
At NIKA LAW LLP, Elder Law forms part of our masthead because of our dedication to advocacy for older Canadians. Members of our firm sit on boards for organizations dedicated to bringing awareness and implementing changes in the area of Elder Law.
We work with seniors and their families to ensure proper estate planning documents are in place, including power of attorney documents (“POAs”). We advise people acting under POAs as to their duties and obligations and how to mitigate against the risk of allegations of abuse and misuse of the authority.
In some cases, we must attend before the Court to resolve matters such as:
- The removal of a substitute decision-maker (aka “POA”);
- Setting aside transfers of assets;
- Demanding a full accounting of money spent;
- Voiding or challenging a predatory marriage and others.
We believe first in protecting the autonomy of all Canadian’s irrespective of age and support the motto that says, “be the author of your own life!”
- Statistics Canada, Population Estimates on July 1st, by age and sex: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1710000501
- Alzheimer Society Canada, Dementia Numbers in Canada: https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/what-dementia/dementia-numbers-canada
- Alzheimer Society Canada, Prevalence and Monetary Costs of Dementia in Canada, Page 22, Table 2a: https://alzheimer.ca/sites/default/files/documents/Prevalence-and-costs-of-dementia-in-Canada_Alzheimer-Society-Canada.pdf