Elder Abuse: What Is It?
Elder Abuse is the knowing or unknowing maltreatment of an older adult. Abusers are often people closest to the victim, such as a family member, caregiver or close friend. The abuse itself can take many forms, including financial or physical abuse. Mistreatment of the elderly can happen within any income level, ethnicity, religion or location.
Seniors are prime targets for many forms of abuse due to certain vulnerabilities that come with aging. These susceptibilities include:
- Fading mental and/or physical abilities, resulting in increased dependence on others
- A willingness to trust
Due to the delicate nature of abuse, the acknowledgment or discovery of elder abuse may be extremely difficult to understand and accept. Older adults must not take responsibility for being abused or understanding why they are being mistreated. It is imperative that older adults instead seek help and assistance if they are being victimized.
Elderly Abuse Categories
Per the Amendment to the Older Americans Act of 1987, there are currently three categories of elder abuse in the U.S. These are:
- Domestic Elder Abuse: Abuse which happens in the home of the victim or his/her caregiver. The abuser here is commonly a family member, friend or paid caregiver
- Institutional Abuse: Abuse which occurs in an institution such as a nursing home, assisted-living facility or foster home. In these instances, the culprit is obligated to care for the senior either contractually or financially.
- Self-Neglect: Abuse characterized by an elder’s own behavior which threatens his or her own health and safety. Inability or refusal to provide oneself with food, water, clothing, shelter or other essentials constitutes self-neglect. Self-neglect is NOT a crime.
Elder Abuse Forms and Acts
Types of elderly abuse can vary widely, and in many cases, multiple forms of abuse may be present. Following is an overview of six different forms of elder abuse.
1. Physical Abuse
Physical abuse of seniors is characterized by acts of violence and/or the intent to cause bodily pain or injury. Physical acts include hitting, pushing, beating, shaking, slapping, shoving, kicking, burning and pinching. Less obvious but equally serious events of physical abuse are inappropriate or misused physical restraints or medication dosing.
2. Physical Abuse
Financial abuse can also take many forms. Any act which illegally or improperly utilizes or exploits a senior’s monies, properties or assets is considered abuse. Stealing of money, checks, credit cards, financial/banking information or property, forging signatures, inappropriate use of legal power, and trickery can all constitute financial abuse.
Many financial scams specifically target the elderly, sometimes cheating seniors out of their life savings. Following is a list of frauds and scams for which elderly consumers are at risk:
- Auto Sales and Repair Frauds
- Telemarketing Scams, including fraudulent charities and sweepstakes or pyramid schemes
- Door-to-Door Sales Frauds
- Health Fraud
- Home Repair Frauds
- Identity Theft
- Fraudulent Living Trusts
- Real Estate Fraud
- Staged Car Collisions
- Sweetheart Scams
3. Emotional or Psychological Abuse
Acts of emotional abuse against the elderly can include many tactics. These abuses can be one-time or long-term occurrences. Emotional or psychological abusive events include harassment, use of insults, intimidation, verbal or non-verbal threats, humiliation, raging and name-calling. Any intent to cause psychological isolation or trauma is abusive.
Failing or refusing to provide a senior with a certain level of care is considered neglect. Caregiving necessities include the provision of adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, personal hygiene, medications, medical care, heat and/or air conditioning. Not paying a residential or assisted-living institution can also constitute neglect.
5. Sexual Abuse
Sexual contact without consent and violent or forced sexual contact constitutes abuse. Inappropriate and unwanted touching, sexual assault and sexual battery are disturbing elements of elder abuse.
To desert or abandon an elderly person within one’s care is considered abusive.
Elder Abuse Signs & Symptoms
Due to the varying nature of elderly abuse, signs of abuse are also widely-varied. Here are some indicators that elder abuse may be occurring:
- Reports from the older adult that he/she is being mistreated
- Physical injury including bruising, broken bones, sprains, cuts, or burns, as well as any injury that cannot be explained
- Perceived lack of physical maintenance, including weight loss, poor hygiene and bed sores
- Caregiver’s refusal to allow the elder to be seen alone or at all
- Unusual behavior, including behavioral or emotional changes, agitation, anxiety, apathy, paranoia or withdrawal
- Unexplained changes in financial arrangements or situations
Elderly Abuse Risk Factors
Many risk factors exist which contribute to the devastating consequences of abuse of the elderly. Those over the age of 80, especially women, are at highest risk. The greater the senior’s dependence on others, the greater his or her risk of abuse can be. Unfortunately, the most common abuser is a family member – the spouse or grown child – and/or a caregiver. Many resources exist for both the elderly and their caregivers, so if abuse is suspected, please seek help immediately.
Some additional risk factors for elder abuse are:
- Caregiver personal problems, such as mental illness or stress
- Social isolation of the victim, creating a prime environment for abuse
- History of domestic violence, which is worsened by the elements of aging
- Criminals who prey on the elderly, especially financially