Without the language to define abuse, there is no way to gather statistics in Canada said Dr. Gloria Gutman from the Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre, who visited Prince George Friday during a town hall meeting about elder abuse in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.
Statistics are sorely lacking for elder abuse in general, let alone in the LGBT community.
Gutman said now that it is defined, elder abuse can now be documented.
"Part of the problem over the years is that various agencies disagreed as to what they were going to call elder abuse and of the different subtypes and how they were going to define them," said Gutman.
"One of the important things Canada has done is to come together - a group of us from across the country with some international representatives as well - we played a leadership role in coming to consensus and agreeing on some definitions and once you have agreement on definitions then you can start counting."
The Canadian definition of elder abuse is action/behaviours or the lack of actions/behaviours that cause harm or risk of harm within a trust relationship. There are specifics like emotional/psychological abuse, financial, sexual and physical abuse that have also been categorized and defined.
"Part of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, which is looking at 50,000 Canadians, has some questions dealing with elder abuse so that will give us some national data on prevalence," said Gutman. "But within the province our seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, to her great credit, has drawn attention to the need for agencies to start collecting and making sure they compile the numbers because numbers talk and numbers get attention."
Gutman said this was one of six town hall meetings held in the province. To present each town hall the centre partnered with the health authorities in Surrey, Nelson, Vancouver, Kelowna and Vancouver Island, as well as Prince George.
Several issues were addressed in an effort to raise awareness including why LGBT seniors may have special vulnerabilities like discrimination and isolation that could be a barrier to reporting abuse.
"People tend to think about physical abuse first and and when we first identified this problem it was called granny bashing," said Gutman.
"But then we began to look at it in a broader sense to realize the two most common types are emotional/psychological abuse where people are belittled and made to feel they are inferior - that they don't know what they are talking about and they are old and senile and also financial abuse where people have what we call rapacious relatives who think it's their entitlement to their parents' or their relative's money and that they should pre-distribute their inheritance - they should take it first because they think well, he's old and doesn't need it."
Gutman said those actions are illegal and need to be reported but it's very hard to do that when the victim is frail and elderly and is in a vulnerable position.
"Or if the victim has had bad experiences with the 'system' whether it's the legal system or the medical system as many of the members of the LGBT community have had over the years," said Gutman, who said there's never enough resources to help victims of elder abuse but there are some ways to reach out.
Gutman said the Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) is a toll free line, 1-866-437-1940, that offers elder advocacy and support for seniors in the province.
SAIL is available seven days a week, except for holidays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
During the town hall meeting several resources were identified including Northern Health's Adult Abuse and Neglect specialist, Melinda Allison, and the BC Community Response Network people can access at www.bccrns.ca.
Gutman challenged the 20 or so attendees of the town hall meeting to take action against elder abuse and to reach out to the resources available for help.