gazette logo
   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

mun logo
May 20, 2004


The faces of elder abuse

By Suzanne Brake

My name is Luka; I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you, yes; I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night, some kind of trouble some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was …


Elder abuse is everyone’s problem. The Toronto Mayor’s Committee on Aging (1984) defined elder abuse as “any action by a person in a position of trust – a friend, family member, neighbour or paid caregiver – which causes harm to a senior. It can be physical violence. Pushing, shaking, hitting, sexually molesting or rough handling are examples of abuse. It can also be overmedication of a senior. It can be psychological harm. Treating elderly people like children, bullying them or calling them names are all forms of abuse. It can be financial. A person in a position of legal trust may withhold money, force a senior to sell property or possessions or demand changes in a senior’s will. The theft of money or possessions by an institutional worker is also abuse. It can result in neglect. Seniors who are denied adequate nutrition, medical attention, or who are left in unsafe or isolated places also suffer from abuse.”

Maybe it’s because I’m clumsy, I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it’s because I’m crazy, I try not to act too proud
They only hit until you cry. And after that you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore …

The 2001 Canadian census indicated that seniors (age 65 and over), account for 13 per cent of the nation’s population. That number is projected to increase to 15 per cent by 2011, 19 per cent by 2021, and 25 per cent by 2041. In Newfoundland and Labrador seniors account for 12.3 per cent of the population with the largest increase in population (41 per cent) occurring in adults age 80 and over. The 2001 Canadian Participation and Activity Limitation Survey reports about disabilities in the areas of hearing, seeing, speech, mobility, agility, pain, learning, memory, development, and psychology. While 3.6 million (12.4 per cent) Canadians reported having activity limitations; over 800,000 (53.5 per cent) were over the age of 75 years. Further, 57.7 per cent of Canadians, over age 85 years, reported a mobility-related disability. While the risk of vulnerability increases with age, an increase also occurs in the capabilities and potential of well elders to serve society. The need to promote a healthy lifestyle among all people, including seniors, is very important, as is the need to educate and create awareness about potential vulnerabilities and risks such as elder abuse.

Yes, I think I’m okay. Walked into the door again
If you ask that’s what I’ll say. And it’s not your business anyway
I guess I’d like to be alone, with nothing broken, nothing thrown
Just don’t ask me how I am …

Research has provided us with indicators of risk of abuse. A person is more at risk if female; psychologically dependent on the abuser; has a long standing history of spousal violence or poor marital relationship; past history of abuse, neglect or exploitation; advanced age; physical dependence; impaired mental status; history of mental illness; alcohol or substance abuse; financially dependent or finances are managed by others; and/or is isolated. Research has also provided us with a picture of the abuser. Indicators include psychological dependence by victim or on the victim; a long standing history of spousal violence or poor marital relationship; impaired mental health status; history of mental illness, difficulty coping with stress; alcohol or substance abuse; financially dependent; inexperienced at caregiving; isolated; abused as a child; unsympathetic; and has a need for control. Most abuse is perpetrated by someone the senior knows – a family member, friend, caregiver, landlord or staff in a facility. In family violence situations, adult children and spouses account for 71 per cent of abusers and older women are as likely to be abused by a spouse (36 per cent) as by an adult child (37 per cent), while men are more likely to be abused by an adult child (43 per cent).

My name is Luka, I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you, Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night, some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was…..


Everyone, younger and older, is encouraged to attend a provincial conference – The Faces of Elder Abuse – scheduled for May 27–28 at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s, to address the disturbing and growing problem of elder abuse in our society. An international perspective on elder abuse will be provided by Ivan Hale, past secretary general of the International Federation on Ageing. Charmaine Spencer, lawyer and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, will provide an overview of abuse and neglect of older adults in Canada as well as explore what’s working and why.

A variety of concurrent sessions will explore topics such as financial abuse, dementia, interventions and resources, and the voices of seniors themselves will be heard. The session Embracing Diversity: Respect for our Differences will use pop star Suzanne Vega’s song, My name is Luka, to explore other factors that are not as visible and can increase the risk of vulnerability. For example, 80 per cent of seniors are working with the lowest levels of literacy. In 1998, seniors in Newfoundland averaged an income of slightly more than $15,000. Abuse can occur in any family including same sex relationships, and joining your family in Canada may mean an inability to communicate outside your family. The session will explore issues of diversity by creating a composite(s) of Luka.

For more information about this conference contact the Seniors Resource Center at (709) 737-2333 or visit

Suzanne Brake (BSW, MSW) is a sessional instructor with the School of Social Work at Memorial University and currently a PhD student at the University of Calgary, Alberta.


     Top Stories

Dr. Ken Barter
FormulaMun car
Dr. Willie Davidson
Dr. Proton Rahman
Next issue: June 10, 2004

Questions? Comments?
E-mail our editor.