Estate Planning, Legal

Protecting Older Adults from Abuse

Re-posted from ON THE RADAR, a publication of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

On June 15 each year, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day draws attention to the abuse and neglect of older adults. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on this, with the widespread neglect and deaths in Ontario’s long-term care homes.

This month’s On the Radar gives an overview of elder abuse and highlights some of the steps older adults and their families can take to protect their rights.

Types of elder abuse

Older adults are usually abused by someone they know and often by someone they trust and care about, such as:

  • a family member, spouse, or partner
  • a friend, roommate, or neighbour
  • a caregiver or service provider
  • a person they rely on for a place to live or for financial help

Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial. It can also be abuse if someone agrees to provide care to an older adult and then neglects or does not care for them properly. For example, they don’t give the person medication, food, or clothing.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada.

Financial abuse happens when someone steals from an older adult or takes advantage of them financially. This can happen if someone:

  • steals money, pension cheques, or personal belongings
  • lives with an older adult and does not pay their fair share of the expenses
  • commits a crime by using the older adult’s credit card or bank card without their permission or by signing cheques in their name
  • pressures the older person to do something like selling their home or personal belongings, or giving away their money

Ways to protect against financial abuse include:

  • keeping financial and legal documents in a safe place, like a drawer with a lock or a safety deposit box
  • not sharing passwords, Personal Information Numbers (PINs), bank cards, or credit cards
  • setting up direct deposit for pension cheques and automatic payments for bills and expenses

Other ways people can protect themselves from abuse

Whenever possible, it’s best if older adults plan for the future while they’re still independent and understand what their decisions mean. This includes:

CLEO’s Guided Pathways for Wills and Powers of Attorney offer a free and easy way to create or update these documents.

Reporting abuse

Call 911 if you think that someone is being abused and it’s an emergency.

Call your local police station if you think there’s been a crime, such as physical or sexual assault, or a financial crime like theft, fraud, or abuse of a Power of Attorney.

The law says that everyone must report abuse if the person lives in a long-term care home or a licensed retirement home. This means staff, visitors, family members, and friends.

The only people who don’t have to report are residents.

Report abuse in long-term care homes through the Long-term Home Care ACTION Line at 1-866-434-0144. Read more in What should I do if I see abuse in a long-term care home?

Report abuse in a retirement home to the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority at 1-855-275-7472. Read more in What should I do if I see abuse in a retirement home?

Where to get help

There are organizations across Ontario that can help someone dealing with abuse or their family members and friends. Here are some examples. They all provide their services for free.

The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) gives free legal advice or legal referrals to people who are over 60 and have a low income. Call 1-855-598-2656 or 416-598-2656. If ACE can’t help, they can make a referral to another legal or social service.

Community legal clinics give free legal services to people with low incomes. Clinics help people with a range of legal problems, like social assistance and housing.

The Seniors Safety Line takes calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in over 150 languages. They know about programs and services in communities across the province. And if an older adult calls them directly, they can provide counselling. Call 1-866-299-1011.

The Seniors’ INFOline is part of Ontario’s Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They can give information about government programs and services related to older adults and elder abuse. Call 1-888-910-1999 or 1-800-387-5559 (TTY). To find other local supports, call 211 or go to the 211 Ontario website.