It’s a tragic truth that senior abuse exists. In fact, at least 1 in 10 people 60 years and older will suffer abuse or neglect each year, but only 1 in 24 of those cases are ever reported. Every June, Elder Abuse Awareness Month brings focus to this pervasive issue, but it’s always the right time to educate yourself on how to identify the signs of and prevent elder abuse.
What is Elder Abuse?
Simply put elder abuse is an intentional act or negligence that causes harm. The offender can be anyone – a family member, their spouse, acquaintances, and even professional caregivers. Often when we think of abuse, we envision physical assault. The truth is, however, abuse has many different faces.
- Physical Abuse includes any intentional use of physical force to inflict pain.
- Sexual Abuse includes any non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
- Emotional Abuse or Psychological Abuse includes any verbal assault or intimidation as well as actions meant to inflict mental or emotional suffering.
- Neglect means denying any necessities such as food, clothing, medication, and shelter.
- Financial Exploitation includes any attempt to misuse or withhold financial resources.
Elder Abuse Facts and Statistics
The statistics on senior abuse paint a bleak picture. As you read through the facts and figures below it’s important to keep in mind, with only a fraction of the cases reported, the numbers are likely a lot higher.
Elderly Women are More Likely to be Abused
Senior abuse can affect anyone regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, and financial background, but there are some individuals with a higher likelihood of being targeted. According to the National Council of Elder Abuse (NCEA), elderly women are more likely to suffer abuse than men; studies found that 1 in 6 women reported suffering one or more types of abuse.
One Type of Abuse Often Coincides with Another
Those who suffer from one type of abuse are often exposed to other forms of mistreatment. One study found that reports of physical abuse are most likely to coincide with other types of abuse.
Families are Most Likely to Commit Elder Abuse
Unfortunately, trusted family members, specifically adult children and spouses, are more likely to be a perpetrator. An alarming 60% of physical abuse incidents cite a family member as the offender.
Financial Abuse is the Most Reported Type of Abuse
While it’s true that aging individuals are more likely to become victims of identity theft and scams, many financial abuse offenders are family members. It’s estimated that seniors lose at least $2.6 billion a year because of financial abuse. Beyond using the elderly individual’s funds and assets without consent, the perpetrator may coerce them into signing documents or misuse a power of attorney or conservatorship.
2 in 3 Nursing Home Staff Members Admitted to Abusing Residents
Alarming but true according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The most prevalent types of incidences reported in nursing homes include psychological and physical abuse.
Why Isn’t Elder Abuse Reported?
Reaching out for help may seem like the obvious decision after suffering abuse, but there are a number of reasons why seniors may not feel comfortable reporting their abuser. Some reasons elder abuse is underreported include:
- In cases of financial abuse, their money may be controlled by their abuser so they fear being cut off financially.
- They feel “family business” should stay in the family and thus avoid involving authorities.
- They fear retaliation.
- They’re isolated and unable to reach out to a trusted third party.
- Some people who suffer abuse are embarrassed and feel they must have caused the abuse in some way.
- They live with mental impairment such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
- They depend on their abuser to provide for their care.
- They don’t want to get their abuser in trouble.
How to Prevent Elder Abuse
Learning that your loved one may have suffered any type of abuse can be heartbreaking, but learning what to look for and maintaining an active role in their life can help prevent abuse or, at the very least, catch it early.
Signs of Elder Abuse
Some signs are obvious and easy to identify such as sudden weight loss, unsanitary living conditions, and bruises. Other signs aren’t quite as apparent. They may withdraw from their favorite activities, experience sleep disturbances, and uncharacteristic financial decisions. Here’s a list of red flags that could indicate a loved one is suffering elder abuse:
- Torn or soiled clothes
- Social isolation
- Agitation or violence
- Missing medical aids such as dentures or hearing aids
- Unpaid bills despite having financial resources
- Unexplained STI
- Poor nutrition and dehydration
Preventing Elder Abuse
Staying engaged in your elderly parent’s life is the easiest way to deter the possibility of abuse. Encourage them to maintain social interactions and indulge in their favorite activities. Offenders often target elderly men and women who are already isolated.
If you’re considering a nursing home or at-home senior care for your loved one, it’s important to do your research. A long-term care ombudsman can guide you through the process and help you work through all the options. They also work to improve the care and quality of life of the elderly and uphold Residents’ Rights.
Reporting Elder Abuse
If you believe your loved one is in immediate, life-threatening danger, call 911 immediately.
To report any signs of senior abuse, you can reach out to their doctor, contact Adult Protective Services (APS), or use Elder Rights to locate additional resources. You can also contact your local ombudsman to get help if you suspect abuse or neglect from a long-term service provider.
As the premier senior caregiver service in Columbia, SC, our caregivers are passionate about integrated care. We understand the importance of caring not just for people’s physical needs but for their mental and social needs as well. You can learn more about our services here.
If you’re looking for high-quality, personalized senior home care in the greater Columbia, SC area, we’d love to talk. You can contact us here.