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What is Elder Abuse?

Written June 15, 2016

Elder abuse is a problem. There’s no way around that, with roughly one in ten individuals over the age of 60 experiencing some form of abuse. Unfortunately, we may never know the true extent of the issue: a 2010 study in New York found the rate of incidence was nearly 24 times that of the report rate. Abuse occurs much more than it is reported.

According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, elder abuse is the “knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or other person that causes harm or serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”

Types of Abuse

That definition includes a number of different categories:

  1. Financial – misappropriating funds or income of the elderly individual, forging signatures for financial gain, and in more severe instances, identity theft. This is typically the largest group each year, with financial abuse costing $2.9 billion annually in the United States according to Metlife. Watch for sudden changes in their financial situation, including (but not limited to) large withdrawals from their accounts.
  2. Physical – causing physical pain or injury. Unexplained or frequent cuts, bruises, broken bones, scratches, burns, and even broken glasses or jewelry may indicate that physical abuse is taking place. Your loved one may be unable or afraid to speak out.
  3. Emotional – verbal abuse, threats, abandonment, or harassment. Yelling, snapping, and unfairly scolding or belittling all fall under the umbrella of emotional or mental abuse. Warning signs include retreating from people and activities they used to enjoy, other noticeable changes in behavior, depression, lashing out, and general but unexplained sadness.
  4. Sexual – the frequency of sexual abuse with elderly victims is smaller than other categories, but it still accounts for anywhere from 5-10% of the reported abuse cases in a typical year. Sexual abuse includes any touching, fondling, or other sexual activity when the individual is unable to understand, resist, or consent. Bruising or bleeding around the genitals, unexplained venereal diseases or infections, and torn or bloody clothing and bedsheets may be indicators.
  5. Neglect – either willfully or passively withholding the necessities of life such as food, water, shelter, healthcare, and even companionship. There is a great deal of overlap between abuse and neglect of elderly persons. Red flags include bedsores, weight loss, inferior personal hygiene, and persistent illness.

Fortunately, legislation exists in all 50 states for the prevention and interception of elder abuse. Organizations like the National Adult Protective Services Association offer safe and confidential help across the country.

But that doesn’t stop it from happening. Regrettably, elder abuse victims suffer a 300% higher risk of death within three years of the incident, and roughly 90% of the abusers are family members. A full two-thirds of them are either spouses or adult children. Individuals that are socially isolated or suffering from some sort of impairment like Alzheimer’s are at an increased risk, but the reality is that elder abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere.

If you perceive an immediate threat to someone, don’t hesitate to call 911. If you have any suspicion or concern that abuse may be taking place, contact your local branch of Adult Protective Services for advice on how to proceed. And if you or your loved ones have been the victim of abuse, please consider contacting the experts at Duffy and Duffy. The guilty parties must be held accountable. For you. For your family.

Let’s stop elder abuse in its tracks.

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