Elder Abuse is Wrong: A Closer Look

"The Way We Were"

Harold gives Edna a little smile as he leaves her at the rehabilitation centre. He's happy they will have some time apart. Edna seems like a different person since her stroke—all her patience has flown away. He tries to help her in whatever way he can, but she rarely has a good word for him. His cooking, his cleaning—nothing is ever good enough.

Harold wishes he didn't resent Edna's frustration. He knows that it's hard for both of them to adjust. But it's more complicated than that: he finds he is afraid of her too. He practically jumps out of his skin when she bangs her cane on the table. The other day he suggested that she "lighten up" and she threw her coffee at him. He still has the burns. He's worried her outbursts will get worse.

He's tried talking to their daughter. "Oh come on, Dad," she said. "Mom has always been so sweet." But this isn't the Edna they all used to know. Maybe if he talks to the nurse at the rehab centre about it. He and Edna have shared so many happy times together. He doesn't want to remember their last years like this.

For older people, abuse can come in many forms: physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or neglect.

It's possible to experience more than one type of abuse at the same time, or at different times.

In Canada, some kinds of abuse—like fraud, assault, sexual assault, threatening harm and criminal harassment—are crimes under the Criminal Code. Some types of abuse are also offences under provincial and territorial laws.

A Cycle of Abuse

Many people find that abuse often has a pattern. The tension builds for a while until the abusive person lashes out—either verbally or physically. After the "explosion," there is a period of relative calm. Maybe the abusive person says they are sorry and promises it won't happen another time. Then the cycle begins again.

Others describe an increasing spiral of abuse—once it begins, it gets worse over time. Violent outbursts and other abusive behaviours grow more frequent and more severe.

The following section highlights some important points about each type of abuse. It also provides some suggestions about what you can do to stop the abuse and to improve the situation.

Abuse can be confusing and can hurt a lot. It may be difficult or embarrassing to talk about it but it's important to remember that you are not alone. There is help available.