Senior Abuse

Senior abuse is the infliction of harm on an older person. It involves any act, or failure to act, that jeopardizes the health or well-being of an older person. Senior abuse is sometimes also called elder abuse, or ‘abuse of an older adult.’

All calls that used to go to the Senior Abuse Line will now be taken by Nova Scotia 211.

Nova Scotia 211 provides information, referral, and support to seniors and others. It is a place people can call for information. 211 is the number to call if you have a concern about a situation of inappropriate or abusive behaviour affecting the well-being of an older person.

All information you may share will be kept confidential.

Resources for Seniors


Frequently Asked Questions About Senior Abuse

There are several types of senior abuse, including:

Physical abuse is the infliction of pain, injury, or discomfort on an older adult.

Acts of physical abuse include:

  • hitting, punching, slapping, pushing, pinching, choking, or kicking

  • physical restraint

  • throwing the person around, or throwing things at them

  • medication abuse (over/under medicating)

  • medical maltreatment

  • any unwanted physical touching

Physical abuse is assault. Assault is when someone purposely uses or tries to use force against another person, without that person’s consent.

Verbal abuse is when someone threatens with words (‘do this or else’), calls a person names, insults them or their loved ones, raises their voice, or yells at the person.

Sexual abuse is any form of sexual activity with a person without the consent of that person. It can include unwanted sexual touching, sexual relations without voluntary consent, or the forcing or coercing of degrading, humiliating, or painful sexual acts. This kind of behaviour is a crime in Canada.

Emotional abuse is the infliction of anguish or emotional pain. Psychological or emotional abuse can be similar to verbal abuse, and can include purposely rejecting, degrading, terrorizing, isolating, or exploiting someone, or denying or not responding to someone’s emotions. Emotional abuse also includes threats or intimidation, constant criticism and put downs, controlling the older adult’s activities, humiliating or isolating them, or treating them like a child.

Violation of human/civil rights is the unlawful or unreasonable denial of the fundamental rights and freedoms normally enjoyed by adults. It can involve denial of information, denial of visitors, denial of opportunity for religious worship, denial of the right to provide informed consent to medical treatment, interference with mail, or unwarranted confinement in a hospital or institution.

Financial abuse is the unethical or illegal misuse of the money, property, or other assets of an older adult, including placing inappropriate pressure on an older person in order to gain access to their money or assets. It can involve the improper withholding of finances, fraud, misuse of power of attorney, pressuring the older person to change the terms of their will or hand over pension cheques.

Neglect is the failure to provide the necessities of life such as proper food, fluids, suitable clothing, a safe and sanitary place of shelter, proper medical attention, personal care, and necessary supervision. The intentional withholding of the necessities of life is referred to as active neglect, and the unintentional failure to provide proper care is referred to as passive neglect. Passive neglect is often a result of lack of knowledge, experience, or ability to provide care. Self-neglect occurs when older adults are not willing or able to perform essential self-care tasks and live in ways that disregard their health or safety needs.

Some abusive actions are considered criminal, but not all abuse is against the law. Physical and sexual abuse, for example, are crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada.  If you think a law has been broken, call your local police.

The Adult Protection Act protects those adults who are unable to protect themselves. The Act defines an ‘adult in need of protection’ as someone who is 16 years of age or older who is abused or neglected and who cannot physically or mentally protect or care for herself or himself. In most cases, the act does not apply to adults who are mentally competent. To view the Adult Protection Actclick here.

If you know of a senior in need of protection, call Adult Protection Services at the Department of Health at 1-800-225-7225. Adult Protection workers can intervene and offer services to help those in need of protection.

For more information about adult protection, click here.

If you are being abused, you need to know:

  • you are not to blame for the violence or the threats;

  • you do not deserve to be abused;

  • you have a right to live without fear;

  • you have the right to a safe, healthy relationship and to have your own life;

  • you cannot control the abuser's behaviour;

  • abuse often gets worse over time.

If you are not ready, or do not want to do anything right now, that is your choice—it is okay. But you can find out information about what you need to know, or do, if you decide to leave at a later date. Information gives you personal choice and personal power.

For information on services and resources available in your area, contact Nova Scotia 211.

If you live in a nursing home, care home, seniors' lodge or assisted living facility...

  • Tell someone what is happening to you.

  • Ask others for help if you need it. Staff members have a responsibility to see that abuse stops and that you get the help you need.

  • If someone is hurting or threatening you, or if it is not safe for you where you are, call the police.

If you live in the community...

  • Tell someone you trust about what is happening to you.

  • Ask others for help if you need it.

  • If someone is hurting or threatening you, or if it is not safe for you where you are, call the police.

  • Find out more from community resources about your options to take care of your financial security and personal needs.

  • Call for counselling and support.

  • Make a safety plan in case you have to leave quickly:

    • Set aside an extra set of keys, I.D., glasses, bank card, money, address book, medication, and important papers. Keep this outside of your home.

    • Find a safe place with friends and family so you have a place to go to in an emergency.

  • Consider getting a Peace Bond to protect yourself.

For information about Peace Bonds, click here.

If you think an older adult needs help, talk to them first to find out how you might assist. Ask if they are having some trouble, and if you can help. Ask if there is someone you can put them in touch with who can help, and how they would like to be assisted.

 Ask the advice of someone you trust who might know where to get the kind of help the adult needs.

Believe the abused older person - even if the abuser seems nice, and even if the abuser is your friend or family member. Listen to the person without judging. Do not give advice, do not express pity - reinforce that you care and will support the abused person with whatever they need.

Educate yourself. Realize that abuse exists in your own community and to ignore and deny that fact further isolates the person who is experiencing it. Become familiar with resources and support services available.

Leaving an abusive relationship is difficult. Allow abused older people to make their own decisions and to take back control of their lives at their own pace. Offer the abused older person a place to stay, and encourage them to seek help and support.

Provide information and resources to the person so that they can make decisions and know what options are available to them. For information on services and resources, contact Nova Scotia 211.

As of January 15, 2015, all calls that previously went to the Senior Abuse Line are now handled by Nova Scotia 211. Simply dial '211' on your phone for help.

You can report known or suspected cases of abuse in a licensed health facility (such as a nursing home, residential care facility, or hospital) to the Protection of Persons in Care office at the Department of Health at 1-800-225-7225.

For more frequently asked questions about senior abuse, click here.

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