Abuse of the elderly is a serious concern. It not only includes physical abuse but also emotional, sexual, neglect/abandonment and financial abuse.
It can happen anywhere - in the seniors home, senior housing communities and nursing homes. Find out more to protect yourself or your loved one.
Abuse of the elderly is also referred to as elderly or elder abuse.
It is defined as "a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person."
Abuse of the elderly can happen to seniors anywhere - in their own homes, at independent living communities, at assisted living communities and at nursing homes. Elderly are being abused - harmed in some substantial way - usually by people who are directly involved in their care.
Family members are more common abusers but professional caregivers are also potential perpetrators of elderly abuse.
Although there are several types of abuse of the elderly (described in detail below), they all share the same underlying theme - the use of power and control by one individual to affect the well-being and status of another (older) individual.
There are a several types of abuse of the elderly:
Physical abuse accounts for 25% of all elderly abuse cases. It includes inflicting (or threatening to inflict) physical pain or injury such as punching, pushing, shaking, pinching, burning, force feeding, and any sort of physical punishment or restraint. It also includes depriving them of basic needs (such as food, medication).
Emotional/psychological abuse includes inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. It accounts for 36% of abuse cases.
It can include name-calling, ridiculing, constantly criticizing, accusations, blaming, and general disrespect. It also includes non verbal forms such as ignoring, silence or shunning.
Emotional abuse can be difficult to detect unless witnessed. Seniors being abused in this manner can show changes in behavior (such as fear when in the presence of the abuser, agitation or withdrawal).
Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind. It can be difficult to detect except for those involved in their direct personal care. It also includes forcing the senior to participate in conversations of a sexual nature against their will.
Financial abuse is the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets. It accounts for 30% of all cases of abuse. It includes the unexplained disappearance of funds, valuable possessions, changes to wills or financial documents. It also includes fraudulently obtaining or use of a power of attorney.
Neglect includes failing or refusing to provide food, shelter, healthcare or protection. Abandonment includes deserting an elder when that person has assumed the responsibility for care of them. They account for 49% of cases of abuse.
The deprivation may be intentional (active neglect) or out of lack of knowledge/resources (passive neglect).
The physical signs of neglect are often easy to see, including: dirty surroundings, poor personal hygiene, soiled bedding, smell, untreated cuts or sores, poor dental hygiene.
Protect your elderly parents by being aware of the signs and symptoms of abuse of the elderly. At first, you may not recognize them as signs of abuse as they may appear to be symptoms of dementia or signs of frailty. Many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse overlap with symptoms of mental decline so it is important to pay careful attention.
General signs include:
Signs of specific abuse of the elderly include:
Risk Factors Among Caregivers
Many caregivers find taking care of the elderly to be personally satisfying and rewarding. However, some caregivers find the responsibilities and demands of elder caregiving - which escalate as the elder's condition deteriorates - to be extremely stressful.
The stress of caregiving can sometimes lead to mental and physical health problems that make caregivers impatient, burned out, and unable to restrain from lashing out against seniors in their care.
Caregivers that are especially at risk for abusing elders include:
Those that are abusing elderly may display the following behaviours:
Although the majority of abusers are family members - most often an adult child or spouse - abuse can also occur at a long term care facility, such as a nursing home or assisted living residence. Employees who have direct contact with residents are the most common perpetrators.
Risk Factors Among Elders
Several factors concerning elders - while they do not excuse abuse of the elderly - increase their risk for abuse:
Although victims of elderly abuse are not responsible for being abused, they can help prevent abuse by:
If you feel you are at risk for being a potential abuser, ensure you:
For Friends/Family of Elders:
Don't let your fear of involving yourself in someone else's business stop you from reporting your concerns. You could be saving their life.
You can help prevent abuse of the elderly by:
The reporting agencies in each state/province are different, but every state/province has a service designated to receive and investigate allegations of elderly abuse and neglect. Even if these agencies determine that there is only potential for abuse, they will make referrals for counselling.
You should call police or adult protective services right away if you suspect that an elder is being abused. You do not need to prove abuse in order to make a report.
Most states/provinces have a toll-free number you can call to express your concerns. You will usually be asked to give the person's name, address, contact information, and details about why you are concerned. You may also be asked for your name and phone number, or some other way of contacting you in case the investigator has any questions. Most states/provinces will also take an anonymous report if you do not wish to identify yourself. Laws usually protect the confidentiality of the individual making a report.