Preventing Elder Abuse – Part I

This is not an easy topic to think about. But it’s a growing problem.  Who could imagine that a vulnerable population such as our elders would even be subject to elder abuse.  However, according to “The National Elder Mistreatment Study” written about in the American Journal of Public Health, 2012, Vol. 100, pp. 291-297, approximately 11% of the US elders they surveyed had experienced some type of potential neglect or abuse during the previous year.   It’s important to know that this survey did not include those seniors with dementia, who are thought to be at even greater risk for mistreatment.

To help prevent elder abuse, we need to first understand it.  Sources on this topic seem to agree that elder abuse is also under-reported and not identified as often as it should be.  And what’s worse is that according to a National Elder Abuse Incidence study done in 1998, as few as 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse were reported to authorities.

Some facts according to the Administration on Aging (AoA):

Who seem to be the abusers of older people? Family members who are more often the adult children or spouses.

Who is more at risk?  Women and those elders who are 80 years and older are more likely to be victimized.

Some common risk factors:  victim has dementia; perpetrator and/or victim has mental health or substance abuse issues;  social isolation; poor physical health which increases vulnerability

Who does it affect? Seniors across all cultures, races and socio-economic groups.

Where can it occur?  In a person’s own home, in hospitals, in long term care facilities, assisted living or other institutional settings.

What is Elder Abuse?                  Source:  National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)

This is a term that refers to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.  The law specifics vary from state to state, but here are some broad definitions of elder abuse:

  • Physical:  inflicting or threatening to inflict physical pain or injury; depriving them of a basic need
  • Emotional:  inflicting mental pain, anguish or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts
  • Sexual abuse
  • Exploitation:  illegal taking, misuse or concealment of funds, property, or assets
  • Neglect:  Refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care of protection
  • Abandonment:  Desertion of a vulnerable adult by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.

Some Warning Signs of Elder Abuse      Source: National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, burns
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, unusual depression, sudden decrease in alertness
  • Sudden changes in financial situations
  • Unattended medical needs, bedsores, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss
  • Strained or tense relationships; frequent arguments between caregiver and elder.

An “Invisible” Problem

According to the Administration on Aging (AoA) it remains what they call an “invisible” problem.  “As in other forms of abuse, it occurs behind closed doors.  Many of the victims are reluctant to report abuse because they may:

  • Feel ashamed and embarrassed, especially if a family member is the abuser
  • Be afraid that the abuser will get into trouble
  • Worry they will be forced to live in a nursing home
  • Feel guilty or somehow to blame
  • Be in denial that abuse is occurring, or unaware what they are experiencing is abuse or neglect
  • Be afraid that if they report, the abuse will get worse

In addition, some victims are unable to speak out due to dementia or other impairments, or may not be believed if they do.”

As previously stated in this article, we only have estimates as to the number of elder abuse cases that occur every year.  However there is one sure thing to consider:  elder abuse can happen to any older person who could be your neighbor, a loved one, or even to you.

Part II will include:  What we can do if we suspect elder abuse; ways to prevent it; ways to protect you from it; ideas for addressing elder abuse; additional resources.

 “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes” Henry Kaiser