Give every older person an opportunity to express concerns about being abused.  Do this by routinely asking non-threatening screening questions of every older person and, if applicable, of every caregiver.  Some examples are given below.

NOTE: Do not ask questions of this type, if the older person is in the presence of someone who is suspected of abuse.

Examples of Screening Questions:

Is everything going alright at home?

Is there anything going on in your life that you’d like to talk about?

Are you getting all the help you need?


Do They Understand?

Older adults who are limited in their ability to fully understand what is going on around them are particularly vulnerable both to abuse and to being exploited by strangers.  Not only is it easier for someone to take advantage of them, but also they are often less capable of telling someone about it.  They are even more vulnerable when they live alone or are socially isolated.  It is important for everyone to be especially vigilant for the signs of abuse or exploitation of those suffering from dementia, confusion or depression.

Three Pivotal Questions

There are three questions which are pivotal to determining the course of intervention:

  • Is this an emergency?
  • Does the older person have the cognitive capacity to understand his or her choices and to appreciate the consequences of making a choice? Capacity involves both understanding the information provided and appreciating the consequences of the decision or lack of decision.
  • Is the older person ready to act?


1) Is this an emergency?

An emergency is any situation in which the elderly person’s safety, health or well-being is in imminent and serious danger.  Serious danger may result from physical assault, the threat of imminent assault, the presence of life-threatening medical problems or living in an unsafe environment.

When made aware of abuse, ask whether the older person is at serious risk of harm.  In most cases, the answer will be “no”.  In some cases, there is no immediate danger, but the situation is such that the risk of harm should be carefully monitored.

NOTE: Seek advice from your supervisor if applicable and time permits.

If Client is Willing and Able to Leave:

  • Call 911 for police and/or ambulance.
  • Arrange to move the client to a safe place, such as a shelter, a hospital, the home of a trusted friend or family member, or emergency placement in a long -term care home or retirement home.

If Client is Unwilling or Prevented from Leaving:

  • If the older person is in serious danger, call the police and/or ambulance. Police will respond and ensure the safety of the victim.  Police will investigate the allegations surrounding the incident and determine if criminal charges apply.  If the investigation includes removing the abuser, the older person may require supportive services to remain at home.

If You Are At Risk:

  • Leave immediately; contact the police and your supervisor if applicable.

An emergency means that protecting the safety of the client takes priority over other aspects of the intervention at that time.  Once safe, help the client deal with the abuse, and rebuild his or her life.