'Gut-wrenching' footage prompts Ottawa police to warn families about elder abuse

After an Ottawa man captured video of his elderly grandfather being punched in the head by a personal support worker in a care facility, Ottawa police are reminding people to beware of and protect their loved ones from elder abuse.

Elder abuse is a 'sad and disturbing' reality, says Ottawa police detective

Assault at the Garry J. Armstrong Long-term Care Facility in Ottawa. 0:31

After an Ottawa man captured video his elderly grandfather being punched in the head by a personal support worker in a care facility, Ottawa police are reminding people to beware of and protect their loved ones from elder abuse.

The family of 89-year-old Georges Karam installed a surveillance camera in his room at Garry J. Armstrong Home — a city-run long-term care facility — which recorded the assault last March.

"It's heartbreaking because it's a senior — someone that is vulnerable," said Det. Anne Menard of the Ottawa police elder abuse unit on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"This gentleman suffers from dementia and is not cognizant of his own actions, therefore he's even more vulnerable."

The worker was arrested and charged after the incident and pleaded guilty to assault last week. 

Det. Anne Menard is with the Ottawa police elder abuse unit. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)
Menard said it's mandatory for long-term care homes to report any type of abuse to police under provincial law. Ottawa police investigate dozens of elder abuse cases across the city every year.

"Quite often, unfortunately, it's a loved one — so someone close to the senior, whether it's a son, a daughter, the power of attorney. It can be a neighbour. Someone that they trust, unfortunately, will often offend. And like in these cases, sometimes it can be a worker in a home," she said.

Daniel Nassrallah, Karam's grandson, spoke with CBC Radio's As It Happens about what it was like to watch the footage of his grandfather and the worker who was trying to remove the elderly man's diaper:

"Gut-wrenching. When I actually saw the video on the evening of March 8, 2017, I went to stand up and I literally collapsed. My legs gave way.  And I could tell you, as his grandson and in my capacity as a lawyer, you're never prepared for something like that."

Advice for seniors and families

While installing a camera resulted in criminal charges in this case, Menard stops short of recommending this course of action outright.

"Yes and no. I mean police-wise, of course it's great evidence. But the families have to be cognizant that sometimes their loved ones will have to be changed, therefore there are privacy issues there. So they need to sort of look at that as well," she said.

When physical abuse happens, police will work with seniors and their families to decide if they want to pursue charges.

"The reluctance sometimes comes because they don't want their loved one to have to go through a long, lengthy court process," said Menard.

"Having to testify is very stressful. Having to tell in front of strangers their story and what happened to them is very stressful. There's also the fact that they're afraid it's just going to make matters worse in the home."

Menard calls elder abuse a "sad and disturbing" reality, and she advises seniors to get as much paperwork in order — like their will and banking information — while they're healthy to avoid being abused or exploited later on.

Most importantly, seniors need to be mindful who they trust with that information. "You really have to be careful and make sure that that person will have your best interests at heart," she said.