According to the National Council on Aging, “Approximately one in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Some estimates range as high as five million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only one in 24 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.” So what is elder abuse exactly? Elder abuse occurs when a senior and another person have a relationship in which trust is expected and, then at some moment in time, that trust is broken and harm is done to the senior. It can be a single or repeated act. It can even be a lack of action on the part of the trusted person. Types of abuse include physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial exploitation, healthcare fraud, and self-neglect. Let’s take a closer look.
Physical Elder Abuse
Most people think of Physical Abuse as being some sort of assault against a senior. Most people would include punching or kicking an elderly person as the sort of action associated with this type of abuse. Yes, that is physical abuse but the definition is wider than that. Inappropriate restraints, confinement or use of drugs without the senior’s consent (or that of their legal guardian) is elder abuse as well. Simply put, any non-accidental use of force against a senior that results in pain, injury or impairment is abuse and is wrong.
Emotional Elder Abuse
Emotional Elder Abuse is also referred to as psychological abuse. The result of this abuse is distress or emotional pain for the senior and occurs if an abuser speaks to or treats the elder in an inappropriate fashion. This verbal abuse of an elder can take a number of forms.
Humiliation & ridicule is one such way. In this case, the goal of the abuser is to lessen the self-worth of the abused. It can take the form of intimidation achieved through yelling or subtle threats. Habitual scapegoating or blaming is another form of elder abuse. Continually blaming a senior for actions for which they should not be held responsible can, in some cases, abuse.
Emotional elder abuse isn’t just verbal. It can take non-verbal forms too. Here are a number of ways. Terrorizing a senior in a mean fashion can be abuse. Simply ignoring the senior and habitually not responding to questions or conversation is another. Finally, removing the senior from access to family, friends, and activities is another yet another form of Emotional Elder Abuse.
Sexual Elder Abuse
As with non-seniors, informed consent is a standard that must be met when dealing with sexual relations between adults. An unwanted or forced sexual act with an elderly person is sexual elder abuse and it is also a crime. This also includes any sexual contact with a senior who may be unable to consent. For example, people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or another ailment that impairs cognition would be included in this category.
Neglect of An Elder
Unfortunately, neglect of elders is a very common form of abuse. This occurs when a caregiver (spouse, family member, or nursing home staff member) doesn’t protect an elder from harm or fails to meet an elder’s basic needs in a way that risks or results in injury. We’re not talking about an honest accident. This is reckless and willful neglect of a senior. This includes not providing proper clothing, hygiene, shelter, medical care, food, or water.
Elder abandonment occurs when someone who has assumed the legal care of a senior intentionally deserts them. This includes leaving them with people who did not agree to be their guardian or simply leaving the person at home, a nursing home, or anywhere else without any formal, agreed-upon arrangement.
Financial Exploitation of an Elder
If a trusted person takes an elder’s financial resources without that person’s consent then this is financial abuse. A crooked caregiver might forge a signature, engage in identity theft, use personal checks or credit cards. Strangers might try to scam seniors with “get rich quick” schemes, fake charities, or “prize winnings” that require money upfront.
There are warning signs of elder exploitation. Are cash and property properly accounted for? Is the person doing the bookkeeping trustworthy? Are records being properly kept? Are bills for the necessities of life being paid on time? If the answer to these questions is no then there may be elder abuse of the financial kind. In cases like this, it’s also important to ask oneself if the senior has a complete understanding of their financial situation.
Elder Healthcare Fraud
Americans who have health insurance are usually faced with premiums, co-pays and deductibles. Others without coverage must pay out of pocket. Seniors require more medical care and are ripe targets for Elder Healthcare Fraud. These sorts of scams are numerous. Medicare fraud can happen when unscrupulous phone callers get a senior’s personal information and fraudulently bill the system. Seniors, desperate for cheap medication, can also be scammed, by phone and Internet scams, into buying drugs that are placebos with no effect or even sold the wrongs drugs.
Finally, most medical practitioners are ethical but a few are not. They can abuse seniors in a number of ways. These include over-billing or not providing services but charging for them anyway. Faked co-pays and deductibles can really add up too. Elder Healthcare Fraud is an abuse of a senior’s pocketbook.
The issue of elder self-neglect is a little more complicated than the others. That’s because it’s not about someone doing something to a senior but what they don’t do. Broadly speaking, it occurs when a senior is unable or unwilling to keep themselves safe and secure. As we get older, it’s harder to care for ourselves. This can happen slowly or overnight. Here are some signs that the elder may not be taking care of themselves:
- Food rotting in the kitchen
- Dirty and messy living quarters
- Not caring for family pets
- Mail not being opened and bills not being paid
- Loss of weight
- Poor hygiene
- Inappropriate clothing for the season or social situation
- Confusion and noticeable memory loss
- Trouble with medication
If you see a serious decline in a senior’s medical or mental health it may be a sign that they are neglecting themselves and in need of assistance. Is important to understand, depending on your legal relationship with the senior you may be responsible for their necessities of life. They may need homecare or assisted living. If you need more information about homecare and associated services then you may wish to read The Alarming Cost of Homecare & 5 Ways To Pay.
What You Can Do
Are you here because you suspect a senior is being abused? You can do something. If you believe that a senior has been abused, contact your local law enforcement. Need more information? Get it at the National Center on Elder Abuse or Nursing Home Abuse Justice.