Recognizing mistreatment

Elder mistreatment helpline

1-888-489-2287 This hyperlink will open in a new window.

The Government of Québec uses the following definition of mistreatment of older adults:

“Mistreatment is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older adult, whether the person deliberately wants to cause harm or not.”

This definition is based on the one used in the document The Toronto Declaration on the Global Prevention of Elder Abuse, World Health Organization, to which the notion of intention has been added.

Types of mistreatment

Psychological mistreatment

Gestures, words or attitudes that negatively affect an older adult’s psychological integrity or well-being.

Examples of psychological mistreatment:

  • Emotional blackmail
  • Manipulation
  • Humiliation
  • Insults
  • Belittlement
  • Verbal or non-verbal threats
  • Disempowerment
  • Excessive monitoring
  • Rejection
  • Indifference
  • Social isolation

Physical mistreatment

Inappropriate gestures or actions, or lack of appropriate action, that negatively affect an older adult’s physical integrity or well-being.

Examples of physical mistreatment:

  • Shoving
  • Brutalizing
  • Hitting
  • Burning
  • Force feeding
  • Improper medication administration
  • Inappropriate use of restraints (physical or chemical)
  • Failure to provide a reasonable level of comfort or safety
  • Refusing to provide assistance with feeding, dressing, hygiene or medication to a person who is dependent

Sexual mistreatment

Non-consensual gestures, actions, words or attitudes with a sexual connotation that negatively affect an older adult’s sexual identity, integrity or well-being.

Examples of sexual mistreatment:

  • Suggestive remarks or attitudes
  • Jokes or insults with a sexual connotation
  • Forced promiscuity
  • Exhibitionist behaviour
  • Sexual assault (unwanted touching, non-consensual intercourse)
  • Failing to provide privacy
  • Refusing to recognize or denial of sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity

Material or financial mistreatment

Fraudulent, illegal, unauthorized or dishonest acquisition or use of an older adult’s property or legal documents or lack of information or misinformation regarding financial or legal matters.

Examples of material or financial mistreatment:

  • Pressuring the person to change a will
  • Doing banking transactions without the person’s consent (using a bank card, online transactions)
  • Misappropriation of money or assets
  • Overcharging for services provided
  • Identity theft
  • Failure to manage the person’s assets in their best interests or refusing or neglecting to provide the necessary goods
  • Failure to assess the person’s cognitive abilities, understanding and financial literacy

Organizational mistreatment

Any discriminating situation created or tolerated by procedures in private, public or community institutions that are responsible for providing care and services of all types that compromises an older adult’s ability to exercise their rights and freedoms.

Examples of organizational mistreatment:

  • Providing services in a brusque manner
  • Providing services that do not meet the person’s needs
  • Lack of clear instructions or instructions that are poorly understood by staff
  • Reduced organizational capacity
  • A complex administrative procedure
  • Poorly trained staff
  • Unmobilized staff


Discrimination based on an older adult’s age, characterized by hostile or negative attitudes, harmful actions or social exclusion.

Examples of ageism:

  • Imposing restrictions or social standards based on age
  • Reducing access to certain resources
  • Prejudice
  • Infantilization
  • Scorn
  • Indifference to ageist remarks or practices

Violation of rights

Any infringement of an older adult’s individual or social rights and freedoms.

Examples of rights violations:

  • Imposing medical treatment
  • Denying the right to:
    • Choose
    • Vote
    • Privacy
    • Take risks
    • Receive telephone calls or visitors
    • Practice one’s religion
    • Express one’s sexual orientation
  • Failure to inform or misinforming the person about their rights
  • Failure to assist the person in exercising their rights
  • Refusing to recognize the person’s capacities