What is elder abuse and what can I do about it?

  • What is “elder abuse”?
    • Elder abuse is often defined as any act or omission that harms a senior, or jeopardizes his or her health or welfare. The World Health Organization defines such abuse as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person”. Older individuals may be particularly susceptible to abuse as they are very often more vulnerable due to their age and the effects of aging. For whatever reason, many victims of abuse are isolated from their friends, neighbours, and other family members, which facilitates the abusive behaviour.

  • Who are the perpetrators of elder abuse?
    • The abuser may be a family member, including a spouse. Sometimes, abuse occurs when the family is going through a stressful period, including the stress of caring for the older person.  While the stress does not justify the abusive behaviour, if may be a factor which triggers or exacerbates the abuse.

      Very often, the abuser is someone on whom the older person relies.  Sometimes, the abuse occurs by staff members in long-term care homes, retirement homes, or hospitals.

  • Is elder abuse a crime?
    • While there is no criminal code offence called “elder abuse” in Canada, there are many Criminal Code offences which may be relevant in this context. Offences including forgery, fraud, and assault, theft, theft through holding a power of attorney, breach of duty to provide necessities, stopping mail with intent, and extortion, among others, may provide redress of elder abuse.

  • What are some other examples of elder abuse, in the context of powers of attorney documents and Wills?
    • Our office frequently sees cases of suspected misuse of a power of attorney document.  The attorney will use the elderly person’s funds for his or her own use, instead of for the best interests of the elderly person (who is often incapable of managing his or her property).

      As well, our office often sees cases where an older person, due to his or her vulnerability and/or decreased mental capacity, is pressured to execute a new Will or a power of attorney document.

  • What remedies are available in cases of elder abuse, apart from the criminal law?
    • Various provincial legislation, including the Trustee Act, the Substitute Decisions Act, and the Health Care Consent Act can assist in providing a remedy for abuse, including restitution for financial abuse. Applications to a court to determine whether a power of attorney has been misused, whether a power of attorney is valid, and whether the attorney should be required to pay damages and/or restitution to the elderly person are possible avenues for addressing elder abuse. de VRIES LITIGATION is available to assist you in navigating this legally complex and emotionally sensitive area.