In Isolation information, Resources

Isolation is a risk factor for abuse and is also a result of abuse that becomes deeper and more profound as the abuse escalates. [1]

Isolation and abuse are important social issues in our Edmonton community and beyond. They have a deep impact within our community in general while also having a profound impact on those who are 55 years and older – our elders. For us to understand this impact, it is important to understand the terms social isolation and elder abuse.

Social isolation is a low quantity and quality of contact with others. Social isolation involves a situation of few social contacts, few social roles, and the absence of mutually-rewarding relationships.” [2]

Elder abuse is “any action or inaction by a person(s) in a trusting relationship that causes harm and distress to an older adult.” [3] It “can take several forms including financial, emotional, physical, sexual, neglect and medication. Often more than one type of abuse occurs at the same time. The two most frequently identified and reported types of elder abuse in Canada are financial and emotional.” [4]

Isolation as a risk factor for elder abuse

An older adult who is socially isolated has a higher chance of experiencing elder abuse. Research shows that older adults who are socially isolated and/or have poor social networks are consistently more at risk. People with low levels of social support are significantly more likely to be mistreated emotionally and/or physically. Isolation when defined as having low quality of relationships with those closest and low quantity of social contact with family and/or friends corresponds with signs of elder abuse such as the lack of feeling safe with those closest to the older adult and/or being prevented from socializing with family and/or friends. [5] Older adults who are socially isolated are at higher risk of experiencing elder abuse.

Isolation as a symptom of elder abuse

A senior experiencing elder abuse will likely become more socially isolated as abuse continues and/or worsens.

“Over time, someone experiencing abuse at the hands of a trusted helper may recede further into isolation as a result of the dynamics of abuse. Feelings of shame about what is happening to them may cause them to withdraw from social settings. Some people grow up believing that this abuse is normal, and even, acceptable. These conditions keep the victim of abuse silent, again, reinforcing the isolation that is a part of the cycle of abuse.” [6]

Additionally, “those who suffer elder abuse can be reluctant to report the abuse or seek help. Shame or guilt may prevent some abused seniors from revealing their abuser while others may be fearful of the repercussions that could occur as a result of reporting the abuse, especially if the abuser is a family member. An abused senior may also fear that reporting the abuse will result in the loss of their caregiver, loss of access to grandchildren or other family members, loss of their home, or result in their relocation to unfamiliar surroundings or an institution.” [7]

As the abuse continues and/or the severity worsens, isolation is most likely to increase. Since elder abuse is most likely to be committed by a spouse, adult child or grandchild, this makes the decision to take action very difficult. [8]

Senior Empowerment working to build Awareness, take Action & Advocate

If we are going to interrupt isolation – wherever it occurs – then we can start with ourselves. It isn’t just the people experiencing or causing abuse who are isolated. Neighbours, friends and family members can become isolated too – sitting alone with their fears and concerns of noticing signs of elder abuse. [9]

Senior Empowerment is a project out of North West Edmonton Seniors Society that is working to address these issues. Our main focus is facilitating training in the community titled Elder Abuse: It’s Not Right. After attending this powerful training, you will be equipped with the passion, courage, knowledge and skill that it takes to recognize and respond safely and respectfully to elder abuse – effectively working to end the cycle of abuse and isolation.

We also work to connect younger and older people to shift problematic beliefs and possible behaviours that perpetuate stereotypes and discrimination relating to age (ageism). This aspect of the project is in development with a grade 6 classroom through their health curriculum and relationship building. Part of the design of this is to build wellness and meaningful opportunities for older adults to access.

We invite you to visit our Facebook Page – Senior Empowerment: Awareness, Action, Advocacy where we explore and build awareness about ageism and work to transform how we think about ageing towards positive ageing. This is a great space to be connected to issues that affect older adults and with others who are passionate about taking action to end elder abuse and ageism.

Written by Jamie Zarn.

 For more information on the Senior Empowerment project contact North West Edmonton Seniors Society at 780-451-1925.



  1. It’s Not Right: Neighbours, Friends & Families for Older Adults. Presentation. More information available at:
  2. Keefe, J., Andrew, M., Fancey, P. & Hall, M. (2006). Final Report: A Profile of Social Isolation in Canada.
  3. The Alberta Elder Abuse Awareness Council. (2017). What is Elder Abuse?. Available at:
  4. Government of Alberta. (2017). Facts on Elder Abuse.
  5. NICE: National Institute for the Care of the Elderly. (2015). Into the Light: National Survey on the Mistreatment of Older Canadians 2015. Available at:
  6. Lohnes, C.  (2017). Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF) Society. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Available at:
  7. Government of Alberta. (2010). Alberta Health Elder Abuse Strategy. Available at:
  8. It’s Not Right: Neighbours, Friends & Families for Older Adults. Presentation. More information available at:
  9. It’s Not Right: Neighbours, Friends & Families for Older Adults. Presentation. More information available at: