For about the last year, Debbie Janzen has been speaking in the territory’s community centres, boardrooms, public libraries and church basements about the kind treatment others struggle to put into words.
Janzen is the Yukon coordinator for a national push to draw attention to abuse and neglect faced by Canadian seniors.
Dubbed “It’s not Right: Neighbours, Friends and Families for Older Adults,” the campaign tries to give community members the skills to recognize when the older people in their lives may be suffering and the ability to offer a supportive presence.
“This whole campaign is about creating awareness. How did we get to this place where older adults aren’t valued?”
Janzen is giving a presentation Wednesday as part of the 12 Days to End Violence Against Women Campaign, which started this week.
There are common themes between women facing domestic violence and vulnerable seniors, she said.
In both cases community members will often spot that something is wrong, but be unable to pinpoint exactly what it is, and not know what to do, she said.
Very little research has been done of the prevalence of seniors abuse or neglect across the country.
According to the Government of Canada, one in five Canadians believes they know of a senior who might be experiencing some form of abuse.
When it comes to seniors, it might not be the kind of physical attack that immediately comes to mind, Janzen said.
It could be financial abuse from someone handling their money, or emotional abuse if, for example, a relative caregiver is threatening to withhold visits from the grandchildren if they don’t get their way.
Older women face a unique set of circumstances, Janzen said.
Women in their 60s and 70s likely spent much of their lives caring for families and out of the workforce, she said.
That means they are more likely to have limited finances now with limited pension money.
Women also tend to live longer than men and are more likely to be responsible for caring for someone else along with themselves.
Janzen said society has contributed to putting seniors in situations where they are vulnerable and without support.
“We’ve put them in extended care facilities or seniors apartment buildings where they’re not necessarily part of our community,” she said. “We have contributed to pushing older adults into these vulnerable places.”
Things can get even more complicated if you are related to the people doing the neglecting, Janzen said.
“You’re looking at situations where there could be children abusing a mother, and all the complexities that come with that,” she said. “Not wanting to hurt your own children by getting involved in the criminal justice system.”
Wednesday’s event is taking place at the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre at 1 p.m.
For about an hour, the group will discuss the underlying reasons that lead to abuse, and strategies for how to approach someone who might be in trouble.
The advice Janzen gives is similar to what you would hear at a seminar on domestic abuse: don’t be afraid to reach out, don’t judge the person or try to fix things right away. Instead, keep the door open so that when the person wants help they can come to you.
“Through this campaign we’re not asking people to fix anything,” Janzen said.
“These are, in most cases, adults who are very capable of making decisions for themselves and they just need people to support them.”
The 12 Days to End Violence Against Women campaign runs until Dec. 6. Other events include a sweat lodge for missing and murdered indigenous women and a ceremony marking the national day of remembrance on Dec. 4. A full calendar of events is available online at endviolenceyukon.com.
Contact Ashley Joannou at