Themes common in seniors

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Becoming a caregiver: an important and requiring

A caregiver is someone who provides care or support to a family member, friend or neighbour who has a physical or mental disability or illness, whose health is precarious or who is simply going through the normal aging process. In Quebec, families provide 90% of aid and care for the elderly who are frail and have health problems. In addition, the responsibilities inherent in caring for elderly relatives are mostly performed by women and often by spouses, who themselves are often elderly and vulnerable.

A caregiver’s responsibilities are numerous and varied, and the role requires high personal involvement, a true gift of self. The caregiver must like helping a loved one to handle the shopping, cook meals, perform personal hygiene needs and manage finances. They must also keep the senior company and be attentive to their needs.

By devoting a significant portion of time to ensuring the well-being of family members, caregivers face new challenges, including:

  • Reconciling their own personal and family needs as well as those of the person being cared for;
  • Reviewing their financial position
  • Taking care of their own mental and physical health
  • Working with stakeholders and health professionals
  • Adapting to the changing needs of the person being assisted

The caregiver role is important, but very demanding, and it can have a significant impact on all spheres of life. For some caregivers, the time and energy given to provide a variety of treatments is like having a full time job, sometimes even more so! They become more likely to suffer from a form of burnout, develop anxiety or even depression. Lack of time and resources, stress and fatigue caused by the care of a loved one may also complicate the family dynamics, blurring married life and affecting the caregiver’s performance at work. In the long run, the caregiver may also develop physical illnesses, preventing him or her from meeting the needs of the person in their care.

Getting sick is not very helpful. So before you wear yourself out and can no longer care for the person dear to you, remember these tips:

  • Respect your need for sleep and eat well
  • Take time without feeling guilty
  • Recognize your limitations and, especially, do not wear yourself out
  • Learn more about your loved one’s illnesses, prescription drugs and their side effects
  • Ask for help from other family members, friends or community health groups
  • Do not play doctor or therapist

Being well aware that caregivers also need support to ensure their multiple responsibilities effectively, the Mental Illness Foundation has created the Seniors in Mind program to educate seniors and caregivers about depression and anxiety among seniors. This program also offers a conference on the roles and challenges of the caregiver, as well as on signs, symptoms, treatments and available resources related to illnesses.

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Adapting to change

Each stage in life is marked by numerous changes a person has to cope with and adapt to. However, with age, the physical, mental and social skills needed to adjust to these changes diminish. As a result, it can be much more difficult for senior to overcome separation, divorce, loss of a spouse or family member, a physical illness or to adjust to a new lifestyle when retiring or leaving his or her residence. These situations can lead to stress, grief, anxiety and boredom. Seniors can also feel more lonely, vulnerable and disoriented. Many even tend to focus on the past and what they have lost, rather than considering what is left and what they are still able to do.

In these types of situations, where the intensity or number of changes experienced are beyond a person’s capabilities to adapt, they become more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Talking surely helps

Seniors tend to keep quiet about their suffering to not disturb those around them. But it is by communicating their needs and expressing their state of mind that they can get the support they need to age in good mental health.

Do you need support or want to help an elder?

The first step is to ask family, friends and health professionals for help. You can also contact the centres and associations for seniors and medical facilities.

As part of its Seniors in Mind program, the Mental Illness Foundation offers a conference for seniors and caregivers to raise awareness about anxiety and depression among the elderly.


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Elder abuse is complex and sometimes difficult to define, but nonetheless a very real phenomenon that’s often more widespread than we think. As with all types of aggression on the general population, elder abuse is often committed by people around them, but sometimes by strangers. In addition, all seniors are at risk of  one day experiencing some form of abuse, regardless of gender, age, socioeconomic background, culture or family status. Such abuse can be committed both in private and in public, at home, the supermarket or in broad daylight on the street. The abuse can take many forms:

  • Financial or material — theft of money, property or identity; pressure or harassment for a loan or an inheritance
  • Neglect — to be negligent means to not intervene when necessary, to not satisfy, voluntarily or not, the needs of senior for whom one has responsibility
  • Physical — hitting, throwing objects, restraining an elderly person or prevent him or her from basic needs such as dressing, eating, going to the bathroom
  • Psychological —humiliating, demeaning, insulting or verbally threatening someone; attacking their self-esteem, their psychological well-being
  • Sexual — harassment, fondling, rape
  • Violation of human rights — to go against the rights of a person because of their age; forcing them to do something or making arrangements without their consent

Some statistics

  • 10 to 15% of seniors are abused, but that number is only an approximation because it is estimated that 80% of abuse cases go unreported. (The Quebec Network Against Elder Abuse, 2006)
  • In Quebec, 80% of telephone fraud involves seniors
  • Half of Quebecers who commit suicide are over 65 years of age

Risk Factors

If all seniors areat risk of  experiencing some form of abuse, some risk factors can make them more vulnerable:

  • Little care or no care, provided by a relative
  • Conflict in the family or place of residence
  • Partial or complete loss of autonomy
  • Living alone
  • Physical or mental health problem

Here are some indications that an elder is being abused:

  • Bruising
  • Frequent infections
  • Wounds and injuries
  • Abnormal hair loss
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Adverse change in behaviour or lifestyle
  • Isolation
  • Fear of social contact
  • Sleep disorder;
  • Unusual banking activities;
  • Excessive fear or anxiety;
  • Loss or rapid weight gain.

It is important to investigate if a senior tells you he or she is being abused.

Consequences of abuse

Elder abuse affects their lives physically and psychologically. Physical abuse can lead to serious problems or illnesses. In addition, abused seniors can, in the medium- and long-term, suffer anxiety, depression and even consider suicide.

Do you think you are being abused or witnessing elder abuse?
First, talk to someone you trust like a family member, friend or health professional. Here are also some resources that may be helpful:

Elder Abuse Help
1888489-ABUSE (2287) Bilingual hotline, 7 days a week