Elder Abuse – What Can I Do If I Am Concerned About A Vulnerable Older Adult?


Many of us have older friends and family members. We care about them very much, and it can be difficult to know what to do if concerns arise regarding their well-being. For example, you may have an older parent who lives alone, and you want to support and respect their independence. But you also may be concerned about whether they are able to look after themselves and their affairs. There may be other older adults you know, and you have concerns that they could be vulnerable to elder abuse – someone taking advantage of the adult’s money or personal safety.

There are some steps that you can take if you are concerned about elder abuse:

1. Talk to the adult: Every adult deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of age and abilities. Adults have legal rights to have their voice heard and their wishes respected. Try talking to the adult, and telling them with your concerns. Try opening the conversation with something like: “I care for you and want to make sure you are OK. I can help you, if you need any help. Can we talk about how things are going for you.”

2. Talk to the adult’s support network of friends and family: While it is important to talk to the adult in order to respect their dignity and privacy, you may want to be in touch with the adult’s friends and family to help the adult to access the care and support that they may need or want. There may be information that you are not aware of, or you may be able to come together as a community to assist the adult.

3. Estate and incapacity planning: All adults should make estate and incapacity planning documents to set out their wishes for the future, and should review these documents periodically to make sure that they continue to reflect their wishes. For example, an Enduring Power of Attorney instrument allows an adult to designate a trusted person/company to make financial and legal decisions. A Representation Agreement allows an adult to designate who can make, or help them make, their health care decisions. If an adult wants to make or update their documents, you could help them to locate a lawyer to do so and facilitate their meeting with that lawyer. If the adult is not able to travel to meet with a lawyer, they can make their estate planning documents from home. See our recent blog post for more information.

4. Reach out to community resources as may be available in your area. For example,

  1. Report to the Public Guardian and Trustee: If you are concerned that an adult may be vulnerable to abuse or neglect, you can make a report to the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee. The PGT is tasked with protecting the legal, financial, personal, and health care interests of adults who require assistance with decision-making. You may let the PGT know of your concerns, and they can initiate an investigation. Visit their website to learn more.
  2. Contact the local health authority: For example, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority operates the ReAct Adult Protection Program for adults experiencing abuse, neglect, or self-neglect, and who are unable to seek support and assistance on their own. See their website for more information.
  3. Be in touch with the BC Association of Community Response Networks: BC CRN is an association that aims to create a coordinated community response to adult abuse, neglect, and self-neglect. See their website for a list of helpful resources for older adults.
  4. Contact the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia: If you are concerned that the adult may be experiencing cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease, the Alzheimer Society may be able to assist in connecting you or the adult with support services. View their website for more information.
  5. Reach out to the Council to Reduce Elder Abuse: If you are concerned that an adult is vulnerable to or may be experiencing abuse, visit the CREA website for advice on how to recognize these signs and respond to help the adult.
  6. Consider contacting the police: If you are concerned about the personal safety of the adult or imminent harm to them, contact the police either at their non-emergency line or via 9-1-1

5. Application to Court: The Courts are available to assist adults needing emergency protections. There are many reasons the Court may need to become involved. For example, an adult may be having their property stolen or impaired through elder abuse. Someone may need to be urgently appointed to make decisions on behalf of an incapable adult. See our recent blog post for more information.

Where an adult needs assistance, it can be hard to know how to help. However, there are a number of community and legal resources to assist in ensuring that adults are able to live happily, safely, and in the manner they wish to do so, with proper support from the community.

For assistance with any elder law issues, please contact us.