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SENIORS’ HEALTH: Everyone deserves to live with dignity

The Seniors Health Network each month poses a question to health-care professionals. This month, the following hypothetical question was posed to Louise Tremblay, regional mentor of the BC Association of Community Response Networks.

“I have always assumed that ‘abusers’ are those who strike out and hit others who are unable to defend themselves, or steal money from weaker people. Is that correct?”

It is said that we judge others by their actions and we judge ourselves by our intentions. While we judge others’ behaviours by making attributions to their characters, we excuse ours by blaming external factors.

Psychologists name this error in judgment actor/observer bias. It is, in essence, a blind spot. Are you thinking to yourself, “Not me?” I must respond, “Yes, you!” The good news is that we can balance our perceptions once we become aware of our thinking patterns and consciously make different choices.

First, we have to recognize that we all have the propensity to abuse, and have to reflect on our actions.

As part of my work in creating awareness about abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults, I give a presentation entitled It’s Not Right.

I recently presented at a “lunch and learn” to a group of colleagues at their workplace, where I noticed a young man, the only male in the audience, being super-attentive. He was looking at me, but he diverted his gaze whenever I made eye contact with him. .

“Perhaps he doesn’t like my presentation and he thinks it’s stupid,” I thought. “Then, why is he so focused on my words?”

I didn’t deliberate too long. I completed my presentation, and he quickly left the room, not giving me the chance to approach him and find out how he enjoyed the session and what was going through his mind.

A few days later, I ran into his manager who said, “My team really enjoyed your presentation the other day, your words really resonated with them, particularly the young man.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Do you know what he did after you left?”

“No. What did he do?”

“He came into my office, closed the door behind him and revealed, ‘You know the abusive behaviour that Louise described in her presentation? Well, that’s me with my mother. I better start treating her better.’”

The young man made the painful realization that he needed to change. He was able to shift his perspective because he reflected on his own behaviour, as opposed to externalizing it by blaming his childhood, financial circumstances or his mother.

Abusive behaviours are on a continuum. They can range from an expression seemingly benign, such as the silent treatment, to outright physical violence.

Abuse is insidious as both sides, for complex reasons, may not readily identify its signs. People don’t always realize that their deportments are abusive. Often, they are good people who may be sick and tired caregivers themselves, and they are not getting support.

Abuse happens when there’s an imbalance of power, and one person takes control over a vulnerable adult who is dependent on others for care. Forms of abuse include physical, verbal, emotional, spiritual, sexual and financial.

Neglect and over-caring are also forms of abuse. Over-caring may emanate from great intentions but, for the adult receiving care, it can result in feeling undervalued and miserable as this person is not allowed to make choices.

How about you? Like the young man who had his ‘aha’ moment, will you take time to reflect and improve your relationship with vulnerable adults you know and care for? You have the power to make a difference in their lives, your own life and contribute to creating a safer and inclusive environment for all people. Everyone deserves to live in dignity.

For more, go to or contact me at

The South Surrey White Rock Seniors Health Network is a coalition of seniors service providers working under the auspices of the Mayor of White Rock’s office. For community resources, visit If you have a question for publication, email

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