As the American society ages, the National Center on Elder Abuse predicts that domestic violence against older adults will continue to increase. Reported incidences of elder abuse increases each year. However, because many seniors are embarrassed to admit that a loved one, a relative, or a child is abusing them, these numbers are likely to under-represent the true incidence of elder abuse.
Some have estimated that from one to two million older persons are abused in some way each year. It is unclear whether these are all new cases or whether they include some cases of repeated abuse. It is clear, though, that 3.4 to 5 percent of the 43 million Americans who are 60 and older will become the victims of some form of maltreatment each year.
What forms does elder abuse take?
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, elder abuse is characterized as active or passive neglect; psychological or financial exploitation; physical abuse or abandonment carried out with intent to cause injury or pain to a person 60 years of age or older.
Elder neglect is an act of carelessness or misunderstanding which results in the injury or suffering of a person age 60 or over.
Elder exploitation is the misuse of an older person or of money or property belonging to an older person by someone in a position of trust.
Most forms of elder abuse are due to passive neglect. A relative or other individual caring for a bedridden older person may not realize the importance of turning that person frequently to improve his or her circulation and reduce the risk of bedsores. Nonetheless, such treatment can have a terrible impact on the victim.
Families experiencing stress are also more likely to be hostile toward an older adult. Most families take care of their older relatives without resorting to abuse or neglect. Sometimes, abuse comes from persons in a health-care or social-services setting. No senior is immune from elder abuse – persons in all ethnic groups and at all income levels are victims.
Even though abusers act badly, they are not necessarily evil people. Many times they are in need of and want help. Many can learn non-abusive methods of providing care. Seniors in such situations may go months and years without informing anybody.
As Fernando M. Torres-Gill, Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary for Aging, said at the recent White House Conference on Aging, elder abuse is the most sensitive, personal, and heart-rendering of all abuse.
What is being done to help the abused?
To the degree possible, law enforcement, social and health-care workers are intervening to provide needed care and shelter for the abused. But when it comes to cases of passive neglect, efforts are less effective. The best methods are to provide needed respite for those family members and others you know who provide care for older persons. This small, yet significant act will hopefully lessen the kind of family tension that too often leads to elder abuse. It is also vital to raise the levels of knowledge about how family tension, alcohol and drug abuse, and other factors can lead to domestic violence and abuse.
What to look for if you suspect elder abuse:
- Recurring or unexplained injuries such as bruises, cuts, or burns.
- Injuries without underlying diseases.
- Dehydration or malnutrition.
- Injuries in areas usually covered by clothing.
- Depression or withdrawal.
- Fearfulness of caregivers or helping professionals.
- Confusing or contradictory statements by a competent older adult.
- Resignation or denial.
- Unjustified control of competent adult’s finances by another person.
- Lack of knowledge about financial matters.
Signs of Denied Civil Rights
- Unwarranted social isolation.
- Inability to talk with older person in absence of caregiver.
Signs of Medical Neglect
- Nontreatment of medical problems.
- Over sedation.
- Presence of bedsores.
Characteristics of Typical Victims
- Usually female, often over 75.
- More than one disability – usually mental impairment, confusion, incontinence, wandering.
- Often need help with day-to-day living activities.
- Often have spouse or children living with them.
- Unwanted by their children.
- Not allowed to go outside or have visitors.
Characteristics of Typical Abusers
- Usually related to older adult by blood or marriage.
- Often do not understand the care needs of the older adult.
- May depend on the victim for money and a place to live.
- May blame the victim for their own violent episodes.
- Family history of spouse abuse or child abuse.
- Multiple stressors present – such as marriage problems, financial difficulty, unemployment, as well as stress from the care-giving role.