Protecting the ‘Silver Tsunami’
By Angela Long
Published June 14, 2016
It’s been dubbed the “silver tsunami”– the rising wave of Canada’s senior population. For the first time in history, there are more people in Canada 65 and over than under 15. Statistics Canada estimates that by 2031, those aged 55 and older will make up 35 per cent of the population.
But with this wave comes another type of rise, the rise of elder abuse. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person.”
Last week, the The National Survey on the Mistreatment of Older Adults in Canada released its most recent study. 8.2 per cent of seniors, double the rate of 1989’s survey, suffer from either physical, sexual, psychological, financial abuse or neglect. That’s more than three-quarters of a million Canadians.
The Central East Consultant for Elder Abuse Ontario, Raeann Rideout, says the study “gives us a sense of how extensive the problem is.”
According to the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) website, the breadth and extent of abuse has been difficult to gauge. It’s an issue that’s traditionally under-reported and misunderstood.
“Elder abuse continues to be a taboo that is mostly underestimated and ignored across the world,” the CNA states.
Rideout agrees. “A lot of times seniors are embarrassed,” she says. “They may be ashamed. My son or daughter did this to me, they have to admit.”
When people think elder abuse, they often think nursing homes. A 2015 investigation by W5 uncovered nearly 1500 cases of staff-to-resident abuse in nursing homes throughout Canada. Helen McDonald of Peterborough was one such victim. A hidden camera caught staff members pushing the resident, using a soiled cloth to clean her face, wiping their noses on her sheets.
But the National Survey on the Mistreatment of Older Adults in Canada, says Rideout, does not include long-term care. It reports on abuse by members of the seniors’ families or community, who are by far the main perpetrators. Adult children and grandchildren, for example, are responsible for 37 per cent of financial abuse.
Seniors in rural and isolated areas, such as the Haliburton Highlands, are vulnerable, says Rideout. It’s important communities are aware of the issue, and “look out for older adults when they know something is not right,” she says.
Elder Abuse Ontario provides tips on how communities can recognize abuse and help seniors in abusive situations. They also advocate for prevention, says Rideout, by initiating programs to promote “positive aging” and “restoring respect.”
Next week’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15) indicates this isn’t just a Canadian issue, or a senior’s issue.
Protecting the silver tsunami, says Rideout, is “everybody’s business.”
For more information:
Elder Abuse Ontario: www.elderabuseontario.com
Central East Network: Haliburton and Kawartha Lakes: 705-743-2212 ext. 5760
Seniors Safety Line: 1-866-299-1011 (free, confidential, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)