Elder abuse is more common than many realize. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost 10% of the elderly population (those age 60 and older) reported abuse in 2010. Of those abuse cases, neglect was the most common, accounting for 58% of all reported cases, followed by physical abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. In over 65% of these cases, the spouse or the adult child of the victim is the perpetrator.
The National Adult Protective Services website provides thorough descriptions and examples of the types of abuse Elders may experience. Neglect is defined as the disregard for the needs of another. According to the NAPS, “This includes failing to attend to a person’s medical, hygienic, nutrition and dietary needs, such as dispensing medications, changing bandages, bathing, grooming, dressing, or failure to provide ample food to maintain health.” It is also the disregard for the elderly person’s “financial obligations such as failing to pay rent or mortgage, medical insurance and invoices, and utility and garbage bills.” Neglect also includes the abandonment of a dependent individual.
Physical abuse is the infliction of pain, injury or impairment to another person. Examples include hitting, biting, kicking, slapping, grabbing and hair pulling. It also includes confining someone against their will or the inappropriate use of drugs.
Emotional abuse is the use of intimidation, threats and humiliation. Ignoring the elderly person, isolating the person from family, friends, or activities, and terrorizing the person by throwing objects or glaring at them to project fear are also forms of emotional abuse.
Financial abuse is the unauthorized use or misuse of an elderly person’s money or property. This includes misuse of the person’s checks, accounts or credit cards, stealing cash, income checks, or household goods, and forging the person’s signature, stealing their identity or using another’s assets under false pretense or through coercion and manipulation.
Sexual abuse is sexual contact with an elderly person without their consent. This not only includes physical sexual acts, but also activities such as showing an elderly person pornographic material, forcing the person to watch sex acts, or forcing the elder to undress.
In order to protect seniors against elder abuse, we need to take an interest by listening to the seniors in our lives and calling or visiting with them as often as possible, watch for the warning signs of abuse, and intervene when abuse is suspected by reporting it to the local Adult Protective Services agency. As a senior, you can protect yourself by making sure your financial and legal affairs are in order by enlisting the help of a professional or a trusted relative, keep in touch with family and friends, and speak up if you are unhappy with the care you’re receiving from a caregiver or facility.
As a caregiver, there are steps you can take to make sure you don’t find yourself in a situation where you feel like you are reaching your breaking point and are in jeopardy of crossing the line into elder abuse. Ask for help from family and friends or an agency that provides respite care so you can take a break from your care giving responsibilities on a regular basis. Practice stress reduction activities. Seek counseling if you are struggling with depression or need someone to talk to about the difficulties of care giving. Find a support group for caregivers and take care of your own health.
Information for this article was provided by napsa-now.org, the National Adult Protective Services Association.