Visual language in Elder Abuse prevention

Abuse is a problem that can not be ignored. We need to go beyond the spoken language to create a safe communication bridge for those who are in a situation of abuse, especially elders.   

Being a volunteer as opened my eyes on the many problems people face. One of them is Elder abuse. I volunteer as a facilitator at an English Conversation Circle at Catholic Centre for Immigrants (CCI) and I work with senior immigrants for the past couple of years.

Recently we, at CCI,  attended an important workshop provided by Kim McDonald, Case Manager/Education Coordinator, Elder Abuse Response and Referral Service (EARRS).

What is Elder Abuse?

Kim’s definition: Some of the basics, what is Elder abuse – any action or lack of action by someone in a position of trust that harms the well-being of older adults.


  1. Forms of physical abuse can include hitting, slapping, pushing, burning, tripping Etc. Handling a person roughly, giving too much or too little medication is considered abusive, certainly if it’s done purposely. Confinement can happen, I’ve heard of situations where seniors were tied upThere are many different forms of physical aggression even if there’s no new evidence of injury. 
  2. Psychological and emotional abuse can include the threatening, intimidating, tricking a person, insulting them, humiliating them and treating a person like a child. Not allowing a person to make their own decisions, controlling. Kim suggested there is a  link between depression in older adults and elder abuse. 
  3. Financial abuse – persuading, tricking or threatening an older person out of their money, their possessions or their property. Misusing a power of attorney. 
  4. Neglect when it is intentional –  failing to provide the necessities of life, personal care or necessary supervision. 
  5. Sexual abuse – verbal or suggestive behavior, manipulating a person into unwanted sex, not respecting person’s privacy.

Why people do not come forward?

Kim explains that people are often afraid to come forward, they could be isolated. Isolating the senior could happen by the adult children who are looking after their their parents or a caregiver. Kim is advising: none of us are perfect but it’s really important to catch ourselves if we’re starting to cross that line to elder abuse.

What is the solution?

Kim stresses that connecting people to the resources will reduce risks of abuse. That risk  increases the potential for abuse

  1. If the person’s physical or cognitive health is in decline 
  2. If they are socially isolated
  3. If a caregiver’s stress is high with little or no supports
  4. The senior cultural factors and language barriers are huge.  If you can’t speak the language, you may not feel like you can reach out. Cultural factors as well. People do not want to bring shame to the family. The senior safety lines have translation services. (Here is where the visual communication tools come in.)
  5. If substance use exists
  6. If a child is financially dependent living at home
  7. A history of abusive behavior at home: – a parent has been abusive towards their children while they were growing up.  Now in reversed roles, it’s learnt behavior and quite unintentional

Where abuse could happen?

Kim says: It can happen anywhere. It can happen in a person’s own home, in a retirement home or a long-term care facility.

Who is most affected?

Kim: It happens to men and women any culture any income level.

What are the resources available to the public?

ERRS provides education and awareness sessions for seniors and service providers.  ERRS also offers guidance, tries to work with everyone who call or connect them to other resources.

Organizer: Catholic Centre for Immigrants (CCI)

Presenter:  Kim McDonald

Case Manager/Education Coordinator, Elder Abuse Response & Referral Service (EARRS)

EARRS phone number: 613-596-5626 ext. 230 – Your call will be kept anonymous.

Gestionnaire de cas/Agente de communication, Service d’intervention et d’aiguillage des ainé(e)s victimes d’abus

EARRS list of Resources