Marina’s Picks is a regular feature from CanadaHelps CEO, Marina Glogovac, highlighting some of the many charities she is personally passionate about. As a champion for smaller charities, Marina wants to help fellow Canadians discover some of the lesser known organizations that are working to make our communities better.
As we work towards recovery from COVID-19, we can reflect on what we’ve learned from the pandemic so far. One area that received a lot of attention during the pandemic was the care of Canada’s aging population. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities failed to meet the needs of seniors across the country, resulting in a devastating loss of lives. As we begin to see the potential for a post-pandemic world, we can’t forget the issues that came to light over the past two years. I reached out to Bénédicte Schoepflin, Executive Director of the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (CNPEA), to discuss recovery and how we can continue to advocate for older Canadians.
CNPEA is a pan-Canadian network that connects professionals and concerned individuals across the country to help improve awareness, understanding, prevention, and response to elder abuse. Founded in 2000, the goal of the network was to provide a space for professionals to connect with each other across jurisdictions and sectors. Approaches to elder abuse prevention vary wildly across Canada; the network was created to help them share, collaborate and to provide a sense of unity. With the support of a New Horizons for Seniors Grant, the Network expanded and built their website cnpea.ca in 2015. This online platform offers curated, reliable resources including studies, promising practices, tools, and other accessible information about elder abuse and support services.
COVID-19 Devastated Seniors, But the Problems Weren’t New
During the first few months of the pandemic, the CNPEA ran a survey to evaluate the immediate impact of COVID-19 on their members. Respondents listed increase in elder abuse and domestic violence as the number one issue, followed closely by decreased access to services and supports such as food, health care, transportation, information, and increase in social isolation.
“Social isolation is a serious public health risk, with life-threatening consequences. It can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is a risk factor for elder abuse,” said Schoepflin. “Covid created the perfect storm: increasingly isolated older adults in greater need of support services that were highly disrupted by the pandemic. Social-distancing became a double-edged sword. Over the course of 2020, older adults living at home reported higher rates of isolation and mental health struggles. The Seniors Safety Line in Ontario reported a 250% increase in calls about elder abuse.”
Prior to the pandemic, the prevalence of these issues was already causing concern, in Canada and worldwide. “The rates of elder abuse are fairly similar from country to country,” said Schoepflin. “We may think that things are different in Europe because there are more social supports, or that things are different in other cultures where elders are supposedly more respected—unfortunately it’s not the case. Elder Abuse often goes unreported, it is estimated that 10-12 % of older Canadians experience a form or more of it. The most common forms are financial, physical, and emotional abuse. Sexual abuse is also an issue, but remains rarely discussed. Over the past couple of years, systemic abuse and neglect in long term care homes has also become much more noticeable.”
Recently CNPEA has been having some meaningful conversations with the government about the need for a better infrastructure to support prevention, as well as increased support for senior-service providers and Provincial, Territorial and local networks. Among other things, they’d like to see the creation of a national helpline to support seniors and help with system navigation. “One of the key things is: what is not properly measured cannot be addressed. For an issue to be measured, you need studies and reporting structures. For these studies and structures, you need funding. To get the funding, you need data—so it’s a bit of a cycle,” explains Schoepflin. “I think COVID was really an eye-opener for many, including for the government.”
There are long standing issues with senior care in Canada, including a shortage of beds in long term care and of caregiving professionals. We’ve already reached the threshold where there’s more people aged 65 and over than people 15 and under and the aging population is growing. “The issue is not the aging population in itself,” said Schoepflin. “The issue is that we’re woefully under equipped and under prepared to respond to the needs of this aging population in the future … Covid gave us a glimpse of what it might look like if we do not act now.”
Ageism Contributes to Abuse
Schoepflin is also quick to highlight ageism itself as a root cause of elder abuse. In 2012, 1 in 5 Canadians considered older people a burden on society (Report on Ageism, Revera, 2012). Since then, in March of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the first global report on ageism, which states that 1 in 2 people globally experience this type of age-based prejudice or discrimination.
Although there are many obstacles ahead, Schoepflin feels positive about the future. A growing number of people, including younger generations, are embracing the concept of intergenerational relationships—whether it’s at work, in living arrangements, or at school. Younger and older people, each bring their own life experiences and knowledge to the table, they learn together, and establish lasting bonds. These intergenerational relationships, says Schoepflin, are really important for combating social isolation and preventing mistreatment.
In addition, the generation known as “Baby Boomers” is a large demographic group, and with that comes the power to bring about change. Schoepflin points out that as this generation ages, people are reaching the realization that this is not how they want to be treated, and are hoping for change. CNPEA is currently developing an engagement strategy for the prevention of elder abuse to bolster large-scale change through collective impact. The idea is to help individuals, communities, and governments understand what each of them can do at their level in order to effect change. “We’re pushing for a grassroots effort towards a more holistic, cross-sectoral approach to healthy aging and elder abuse prevention. Abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” said Schoepflin. “It’s connected to many things: social isolation, the well being and welfare of families, healthcare, access to technology, financial safety, among others… people are starting to see the big picture. For that reason I’m hopeful.”
While there isn’t much good to be found in a pandemic, it has shone a light on the issues that affect older Canadians for which we can be grateful. As we move into recovery, we need to broaden our focus to the many issues impacting our society and the charities that are working so hard to make changes.
I encourage you to check out and support this inspirational charity that is working so hard to support the community it works in. Learn more about The Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (CNPEA) on their website, or make a gift through their CanadaHelps Charity Profile.