Seniors’ Month continues across the province and June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, (WEAAD), a time to share information, resources and services promoting the safety and well-being of older adults.
Each year throughout the month of June, seniors are recognized for their contributions to communities across Ontario. This year’s theme “Stay safe, active and connected,” is particularly relevant as seniors are one of the groups most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, they are also vulnerable to elder abuse, including financial, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Each year WEAAD aims to engage people in discussions on how to promote dignity and respect of older adults. The TPS supports this work through its Seniors Community Consultative Committee (CCC) by discussing ways to make Toronto a safer place for older adults, including how to best prepare our front-line and investigative members. The committee includes seniors’ advocates, subject matter experts and TPS members who meet regularly to discuss ways to best support older adults in Toronto.
Senior CCC member and WEAAD founder Elizabeth Podnieks says WEAAD was established 17 years ago when 170 people from around the world gathered at the United Nations to reflect on the global concern for elder abuse. “WEAAD aims to honor and respect the elderly through activities that are innovative, creative and resonate with a sense of community, citizenship and human connection,” she said. “The TPS Seniors CCC has responded by initiating activities directed towards human rights and justice as well as offering supports to older adults.”
Podniek adds, “WEAAD has become a beacon for elder abuse awareness by providing a platform for voices to be heard, listened to and acted upon.”
Isolation among older adults has become a larger problem during the pandemic, as they are vulnerable to the virus and encouraged to stay home and stay safe
And that action must be taken to address the growing issue of elder abuse. A lack of awareness around the issue contributes to a large amount of undetected and unreported incidents of elder abuse each year, including financial, emotional and physical.
It can happen to any older person regardless of gender, culture, race, financial status, mental or physical condition. Abuse may occur more frequently to those older persons who are socially isolated, something that has become more prevalent since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“Isolation among older adults has become a larger problem during the pandemic, as they are vulnerable to the virus and encouraged to stay home and stay safe,” says TPS Vulnerable Persons’ Coordinator Constable Mark McCabe. “Prior to the pandemic, seniors were encouraged to stay socially connected by attending local community centres, seniors clubs, and gathering with friends and suddenly that wasn’t possible. Those who were unable to make the transition to online engagement became further isolated as a result.”
Const. McCabe encourages family, friends and neighbours to check in on seniors living alone and to contact police if they have any concerns. Officers can attend an address and conduct a well-being check or connect seniors with resources to help them stay safe while online and otherwise.
“As a result of COVID related isolation, many seniors are going online for social engagement where they are facing additional frauds,” adds Det. Gail Regan of TPS Financial Crimes. “The two common online frauds targeted at seniors include phony online shopping websites and romance scams.”
We all must learn the warning signs that accompany elder abuse in order to protect our most vulnerable members of society
Det. Regan says when shopping online don’t click on an ad to access a retailer’s website. Instead, open a new browser and access the company’s website via a Google search. Check the company’s online reviews along with the Better Business Bureau.
Romance Scams involve someone displaying false romantic intentions via social media or dating sites to obtain money. Det. Regan reminds older adults not to provide personal or financial information in an email to someone you met online and to google their name and photo. Scammers will often use the same photo, name, email address and user profile across sites.
Sometimes elder abuse takes place closer to home and involves a friend, family member or service worker who isolates the elder from any kind of support. Community partner and seniors’ advocate Kim Whaley of Whaley Estate Litigation (WEL) says as Canada’s population ages, more and more older adults are being subjected to the abuse and undue influence of predators. “We all must learn the warning signs that accompany elder abuse in order to protect our most vulnerable members of society. These include, but are not limited to, sudden changes in living arrangements, an unexplained inability to pay bills, abnormal withdrawals of money, sudden changes in physical appearance, and abnormal changes in spending.”
Whaley says if any of these signs become apparent, it is crucial they be reported to the police so that proper steps can be taken to protect the older adult and mitigate any damage that has been sustained.
More information about isolation can be found here:torontopolice.on.ca/crimeprevention
If you or someone you know is the victim of abuse or fraud please contact Toronto Police at 414-808-2222, in an emergency always call 911. If a person is a victim of elder abuse, there may be grounds for criminal charges against the abuser. Even where those grounds don’t exist, police involvement may be an important step in protecting the victim from further abuse.
Additional resources for older adults and caregivers:
Toronto Seniors Helpline – 416-217-2077 & torontoseniorshelpline.ca
Seniors Safety Line – 1-866-299-1011 & eapon.ca
Advocacy Centre for the Elderly - 1-855-598-2656 or 416-598-2656 & advocacycentreelderly.org
The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee: 1 (800) 366-0335
Guardianship Investigations Unit: (416) 327-6348