Laws and definitions may vary, but elder abuse is a term that generally refers to acts by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. A widely referenced definition is provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), which defines elder abuse as:
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 person. Elder abuse can take various forms such as physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect. [i]
Traditionally, in Inuit communities elders have been held in high regard as the holders and providers of traditional knowledge and wisdom. Many also had roles as mediators of family and community disputes and in maintaining social order. As Inuit culture has changed, the elders’ place and role in the family has changed. Elders are not respected as they once were and may be seen by some as a liability or burden rather than valued family and community members. Elders may be exploited financially or materially, or used for housing for several generations of the same family due to a lack of available affordable housing in the communities.
In 2010/11 Pauktuutit published an environmental scan on Inuit elder abuse awareness. It was intended to review existing assessment tools and other resources for potential use in Inuit communities. Secondary outcomes were intended to both raise awareness among Inuit about this issue as well as inform policy and decision-makers. The scan indicates that the problem of Inuit elder abuse is largely hidden, manifested in complex social relations that are in part traditional and in part the result of modern socio-economic realities. The problem is widely recognized as financial abuse perpetrated by grandchildren. Poverty and lack of housing are important contributing factors. The RCMP and others identify drug and alcohol abuse as critical factors. Underlying the abuse is unresolved intergenerational trauma rooted in the residential school experienced and other historical events such as forced relocations that have normalized violence and undermined traditional Inuit values.
Future work is anticipated to include the development of bilingual culturally relevant prevention and awareness resources, information and resources to support elders to recognize and report abuse of themselves or others, the development and promotion of relevant training materials for community workers and more community-based services. Resources and tools will be based on Inuit principles of healing and will be tailored to the needs of remote fly in communities that have little access to programs or services.
Environmental Scan of Inuit Elder Abuse Awareness
 See the World Health Organization (2011) Ageing and Life Course, Elder Abuse. URL: http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/elder_abuse/en/index.html (accessed March 2011)