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Breaking the Cycle of Elder Abuse

Any senior can become prey to abuse, but those with dementia or disabilities are at a considerably higher risk.

Published: Nov 3, 2014

Breaking the Cycle of Elder Abuse

Unscrupulous financial scammers preying on the elderly is probably the most well-known form of elder abuse. What most people don’t realize is that elder abuse is more prevalent and far-reaching than fraud and scams. Elder abuse encompasses a wide range of mistreatment, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, abandonment, and neglect. It most often comes from family members, friends, or surprisingly, even the seniors themselves in the form of self-neglect. Unfortunately, it is also greatly under-reported with one study estimating that only 1 in 14 cases is ever brought to the attention of authorities, medical professionals, or social service providers.

This lack of reporting can have devastating consequences for older individuals, with abused elders having a 300% increased chance of death as compared to their peers who have not suffered abuse. The fiscal impact is equally severe, with abuse costing the health care system an additional $5.3 billion annually and the victims $2.9 billion in annual losses.

Who is at the greatest risk?

Any senior can become prey to abuse, but those with dementia or disabilities are at a considerably higher risk. Women, both disabled and non-disabled, are more prone to abuse than men. In 90% of all cases, abuse comes from spouses, partners, adult children or other family members. There is an increased chance that family members who have drug, alcohol or mental health problems or those who feel burdened by caregiving responsibilities will abuse. In the case where seniors are living alone, isolation, depression, dementias, and disabilities may prevent them from properly taking care of themselves, resulting in self-neglect, which is listed by Administration on Aging and National Center on Elder Abuse as one type of elder abuse

How can you help?

You can take specific steps to help protect older community members from abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse recommends the following actions:

Be aware of seniors in your family and community. Get to know them and talk with them to help reduce isolation, which is a risk factor in mistreatment and self-neglect.

Report suspected abuse or neglect and continue to be vocal if you feel the situation has not improved. You can report the abuse or neglect of seniors who are in immediate danger by calling the local police or 911. You can also contact your local Adult Protective Services agency (see the Eldercare Locator website and the National Center on Elder Abuse for contact information) or by calling 1 (800) 677-1116. Warning signs of abuse include the following:

  • Bruises, cuts, burns, pressure marks, or broken bones
  • Unexplained withdrawal on the part of the senior from normal activities
  • Sudden changes in the financial situation of the senior
  • Poor hygiene, bedsores, or unusual weight loss, which may indicate the senior is not caring for himself or herself, or the caregiver is being neglectful 
  • Tense relationships or frequent arguments between the older individual and his or her caregiver
  • Belittling, threats and other power or control tactics used by spouses of the elderly

Volunteer with organizations that provide assistance to seniors. This can allow you to help seniors to care for themselves.

Find services available for seniors in your area to help them avoid situations where they are vulnerable to abuse and self-neglect. Your local Area Agency on Aging can give you information on programs such as Meals on Wheels, which can provide nutritious meals, and other programs for seniors that help them remain healthy, happy, and independent—all of which are strong deterrents of abuse and neglect.

Learn as much as possible about the issue and become an advocate. Remember, elder abuse can happen to anyone; it can even happen to you.

How can Comfort Keepers® help family caregivers?

Caring for an older family member can not only be a rewarding responsibility but it can also be stressful and fatiguing. This can lead to short tempers and frustration in spite of the best intentions of loving caregivers. Family caregivers can get help through respite care, where Comfort Keepers sends a professional caregiver to help out and allow the family caregiver to have some time off to take care of daily activities, attend events, or even have a vacation or an afternoon of rest. By taking the time to care for themselves, family caregivers can continue to provide the senior the loving care he or she deserves.

References

Administration on Aging. (n.d.) What is elder abuse? Retrieved from http://www.aoa.gov/AoA_programs/elder_rights/EA_prevention/whatisEA.aspx.

National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/faq/index.aspx

National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Statistics/Data. Retrieved from http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Library/Data/index.aspx

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