Elder Abuse

Elder Abuse

British Columbia Specific Information

Physical, verbal, or sexual abuse at any time, at any age, or in any relationship is not ok.

Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number if you or someone you know is in immediate danger from assault or abuse. To speak to someone confidentially and to get more information, call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1  (or 7-1-1 for the deaf and hard of hearing) or contact one of the services below.

  • Helpline for Children
    If a child anywhere in B.C. needs help, call the Helpline at 310-1234 any time of the day or night to speak to a social worker, no area code is needed. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call 1-866-660-0505 for TTY services. This is a toll-free service, and there is no charge to call the operator if you need to call from a pay phone. This helpline is available for children, parents, and other community members to report abuse. For more information, visit Reporting Child Abuse in BC.
  • Kids Help Phone
    Children and teens can call the Kids Help Phone to speak to a counsellor day or night at 1-800-668-6868. Counsellors are available to speak to anonymously about concerns with abuse and can help children and teens call the police or child protective services. For more information about the resources and support available visit Kids Help Phone.
  • VictimLink BC
    If you or someone you know are a victim of crime and need more information or support, call VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808 for toll-free, confidential, multilingual service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information, visit VictimLink BC.
  • Seniors Abuse & Information Line
    If you are an older adult who has been abused or mistreated call the Seniors Abuse & Information Line (SAIL) at 604-437-1940 or toll free at 1-866-437-1940, 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., to get a referral to their legal advocate and other programs. For more information about their programs and resources visit Seniors First BC.


What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is the mistreatment of an older person. It can be physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect. The person who does it may be a caregiver, a family member, a spouse, or a friend.

Elder abuse can include:

  • Acts of violence. Examples are:
    • Hitting, kicking, or beating.
    • Pushing, choking, or burning.
    • Physical restraints.
  • Forced sexual contact or sexual contact without consent. This includes:
    • Unwanted touching.
    • All types of sexual assault.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse. This includes:
    • Name-calling.
    • Threats, intimidation, or humiliation.
  • Neglect. Examples are:
    • Not providing food, clothing, or personal shelter.
    • Not paying nursing home or assisted-living facility costs if you are legally responsible to do so.
  • Abandonment. This includes deserting an older person when you are physically or legally responsible to provide care.
  • Illegal or improper use of an older person's funds, property, or assets. Examples are:
    • Forging an older person's signature.
    • Stealing money or possessions.

What are the signs of abuse?

Signs of elder abuse depend on the type of abuse.

Signs that an older person is the victim of violence may include:

  • Bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, and rope marks.
  • Cuts, punctures, or untreated injuries in various stages of healing.
  • Broken bones, including the skull.
  • Sprains, dislocations, or internal injuries.
  • Broken eyeglasses or dentures.
  • Signs of being restrained.
  • Reports of overdose or underuse of medicines.
  • Reports from the older adult of being physically mistreated.
  • A sudden change in behaviour.
  • A caregiver's refusal to allow visitors to see an older person alone.

Signs of possible sexual abuse include:

  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area.
  • Venereal disease or genital infections that can't be explained.
  • Vaginal or anal bleeding that can't be explained.
  • Underclothes that are torn or stained.
  • Reports from the older person of being sexually assaulted.

Emotional or psychological abuse is possible if the older person:

  • Seems upset or agitated.
  • Acts withdrawn, doesn't talk or respond, or is paranoid.
  • Shows unusual behaviour, such as sucking, biting, and rocking.
  • Reports being verbally or emotionally mistreated.

Signs of neglect may include:

  • Dehydration.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Untreated health problems.
  • Pressure ulcers.
  • Poor personal hygiene.
  • Unsafe or dirty living conditions.
  • Reports from the older person of being mistreated.

Signs of abandonment include leaving an older person at a hospital, nursing facility, shopping centre, or other public location.

Signs of financial abuse include:

  • Sudden changes in a bank account or banking practice. For example there may be withdrawals of large sums of money that can't be explained.
  • Names added to an older person's bank card.
  • Abrupt changes in a will or other financial document.
  • Missing funds or valuable possessions.
  • Unpaid bills or substandard care even though funds are available.
  • Evidence of the older person's signature being forged.
  • Sudden appearance of relatives who have not been involved before.
  • Payment for services that aren't needed.
  • Reports from the older person of financial abuse.

What factors can make abuse more likely?

Elder abuse is a complex problem, and many things can contribute to it. Risk factors include:

  • Domestic violence carried over into the elder years. A large number of elder abuse cases are abuse by a spouse.
  • Personal problems of caregivers. People who abuse older adults (often their adult children) may depend on the older person for financial help and other support. This is often due to personal problems such as mental illness. The risk of abuse seems highest when these adult children live with the older person.
  • Social isolation. Caregivers and family members who live with an older person have the chance to abuse. They often try to isolate the older person from others to prevent the abuse from being seen.

How can you get help?

If you are worried that someone you know might be a victim of elder abuse, talk to your doctor. Ask the doctor what to look for, what the risks are, and what help is available.

To report elder abuse or to get help, contact your provincial health authority.


Current as of: October 20, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine