A sadly neglected aspect of abuse that has come to the forefront since the 1990s is abuse of the elderly.3Although such abuse has been found in situations involving institutional care, it more frequently involves younger family members, often children or grandchildren.
The most common abuse of the elderly is financial abuse, which is often accompanied by emotional abuse. The retirement savings of an elderly parent or grandparent may be squandered by children or grandchildren. Monthly pension or disability cheques may be withheld. Children and grandchildren may "jump the gun" on prospective inheritances without any thought for the impact of such conduct on the elderly parent or grandparent. Theft of money or possessions represents more than 60 percent of all cases of abuse of the elderly. In some instances, resistance by the elderly person may result in physical abuse.
It has been estimated that at least 4 percent and perhaps as many as 15 percent of the elderly in Canada are abused financially, emotionally, or physically by their children, grandchildren, spouses, or caregivers. Health and Welfare Canada has estimated that more than 315,000 Canadians over sixty-five years of age are victims of abuse. However, the incidence of abuse is likely to be much higher because of the ease with which it can be concealed by family members.
The characteristics of the abused victim are similar to those identified with respect to the "battered wife syndrome." Victims of elder abuse feel helpless and sense that they have no place to go in order to avoid the abuse. They often have low self-esteem, are dependent on the abuser, and lack the physical, emotional, and often financial ability to withdraw from the abusive environment. They are fearful of being abandoned or sent to an institution; they are ignorant of their legal rights; and they are often isolated or unable to communicate.
Abuse of the elderly is not a new social problem but its incidence is increasing with the aging of the Canadian population. In 1991, 11.6 percent of the population of Canada was over sixty-five years of age. By 2031, it will be more than 22 percent. Although federal and provincial governments, universities, and social agencies are beginning to show some interest in defining the boundaries and potential solutions to the societal problem of abuse of the elderly, no concerted effort has yet been undertaken to come to grips with it. There is evidence, however, of increased...