Globally, one in six seniors has reported mistreatment.1 According to the WHO,2 “Mistreatment exists when a single or repeated act, or the absence of appropriate action, occurs in what should be a trusting relationship, causing harm or distress for the senior.”
The mistreatment of seniors can take different forms, which can be subtle or deliberate to varying degrees. Mistreatment is also primarily age-related discrimination (or ageism4) that occurs in different living environments, which has intensified with the COVID-19 pandemic, and which makes its way into our social interactions and often into seniors’ view of themselves (referred to as self-inflicted ageism).
Customer service for online grocery shopping. How can I help you? [client’s response] Okay, I see, but you won’t understand the procedure. Is there someone else I could talk to? I can’t explain it to you. You don’t know how to operate the online platform. You won’t be able to do it [client’s response]. Really?! There’s no one with you I can talk to…? Okay… we’ll give it a try, if you insist…
If you don’t have your furnace replaced you won’t meet standards, and it’s dangerous to your health. You have to do it now! It’s not a recent model; a five-year-old model is old, unreliable… Yes, it’s a big expense ($$$), but you don’t have a choice. That’s how it is. You have to respect government regulations! A word of advice: don’t wait to decide. We’re the only ones who can do it that fast at that price. You’re going to start having problems soon…
If you’re not happy, I’ll go. I’ll leave you on your own and stop visiting! And you can figure out how to get up the stairs tonight, get your dinner and all the rest!
You’re telling me you don’t have enough privacy with Claude, that it’s getting hard to be alone together. I hear what you’re saying, but… at your age, come on… you don’t need that sort of thing anymore. It’s not that important anymore, is it?
Oh, stop crying! If this is the way it’s going to be, I’ll come by later for your care once you’ve calmed down! You’ll just have to wait until I decide to come back!
You don’t feel safe? What’s going on? Uh huh…so you’ve been with your spouse for 25 years and he/she is… 72?! Listen, I think you’re worrying for nothing. It will calm down. Couples have disagreements.
Assuming incompetence, interfering with someone’s autonomy, introducing arbitrary power relations, infantilizing, or not recognizing a person’s needs are all situations that adversely affect the well-being and the quality of life of seniors, and therefore their mental health.2,4,5
Like the colours of a rainbow, ageist attitudes and behaviours take a wide range of forms: from daily micro-aggressions (e.g.: digital ageism and online groceries), to failing to help someone in danger (e.g.: conjugal violence), and negligence (e.g.: refusal of care and assistance, isolation).5
It is important to rethink our relationship to ageing and to identify, name, and oppose age-related stereotypes promulgated in our society.
Therefore: actively integrating seniors to social, political, and community life; adopting good practices in helping relationships (i.e., listening, non-violent communication, taking care of one’s own mental health); identifying and reporting instances of mistreatment; offering seniors your support in the face of discrimination… are all concrete things we can do both individually and collectively to combat the mistreatment of seniors.
Resources – useful links
Elder Mistreatment Hotline: 1 888 489-2287
Tel-Aînés: 514 353-2463
- Yon, Y., Mikton, C. R., Gassoumis, Z. D & Wilber, K. (2017) Elder abuse prevalence in community settings: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Lancet Glob Health, 5 (2), 147-156. DOI: 1016/S2214-109X(17)30006-2
- World Health Organization (WHO) (2002). Vieillissement et qualité de la vie: La maltraitance des personnes âgées. https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/en/elderabuse_fr.pdf?ua=1
- Ministère de la Famille – Secrétariat aux aînés (2017). Plan d’action gouvernemental pour contrer la maltraitance envers les personnes aînées 2017-2022. Québec: Government of Québec. https://www.mfa.gouv.qc.ca/fr/publication/Documents/plan-action-maltraitance-2017-2022.pdf
- World Health Organization (March 18, 2021). Human Rights – World losing billions annually to age-based prejudice and discrimination.
- Beaulieu, M. Leboeuf R., Pelletier, C. (2018). Mistreatment of Older Adults. in Rapport Québécois sur la violence et la santé. Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) – Centre d’expertise et de référence en santé publique.