Although there are no nationwide tracking systems for elder abuse, the National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that somewhere between one and two million Americans over the age of 65 have been abused (through exploitation, injury, mistreatment, or exploitation) by a loved one or caregiver.
The frequency of elder abuse has been estimated to range anywhere from 2 to 10 percent, based on a variety of surveys, case definitions and sampling methods, while just 1 in 14 incidents is every brought to the attention of authorities.
Other statistics on elder abuse, as provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse, include:
- In 1996, approximately 450,000 adults over the age of 60 were abused and/or neglected in domestic settings.
- In 2000, states were asked to report the number of elder abuse reports received. Based on those figures, the total number of reports was 472,818.
- In 2008, the Long Term Care Ombudsman state programs investigated nearly 21,000 complaints of abuse, exploitation, and gross negligence among nursing home residents.
To fully understand elder abuse, it is important to understand the many forms it can take and how it can be prevented:
Types of Elder Abuse
Physical abuse – Physical abuse is defined by the National Center on Elder Abuse as any physical force that results in bodily injury, pain or impairment. As such, physical abuse is often more than just striking someone; it may be hitting, shoving, shaking, pushing, slapping, burning, kicking, or pinching. Further, the use of physical restraints, force feeding or any type of physical punishment is considered physical abuse.
Physical abuse signs may include bruises, broken bones, cuts, wounds, or punctures, but it often takes on other signs, as well, including sudden changes in the senior’s behavior or a caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors to see the senior alone.
Emotional or psychological abuse – Although visible signs of physical abuse may come to mind when one thinks of elder abuse, abuse often takes the form of emotional or psychological abuse. Emotional or psychological abuse can be best described as any infliction of pain, distress or anguish using either verbal or nonverbal actions.
It may include intimidating, threatening, humiliating, harassing or insulting the senior. It may also include isolating the individual from friends and family, treating the individual like a baby, or even giving the individual the “silent treatment.”
Sexual abuse – Elder abuse may take on the form of sexual abuse, which is described as any type of non-consensual sexual contact of any with an elderly person. Sexual abuse may include touching, rape, coerced nudity, sodomy, or even taking sexually explicit photographs.
Neglect – Neglect occurs when caregivers fail to fulfill their duties or obligations to an elder. Neglect may include failing or refusing to provide the elder with food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medicine, comfort or personal safety. Further, neglect may be in the form of monetary or fiduciary neglect, such as failing to pay for necessary home care services or medication.
Abandonment – Abandonment of an elder occurs when the caregiver simply deserts the elder.
Financial/material exploitation – Elder abuse often takes place in a not-often-considered area: the pocketbook. Financial and/or material exploitation includes any time someone illegally or improperly uses an elder’s funds, assets or property. For example, this type of elder abuse may include forging the elder’s signature on checks; stealing an elder’s money or possessions; coercing the elder into signing over checks or other legal documents; and the improper misuse of power of attorney, guardianship, or conservatorship privileges.
How to Prevent Elder Abuse
The best way to ensure your parent or family member does not become a victim of elder abuse is to remain informed and aware of any and all changes, whether physically, emotionally or behaviorally.
Keep an open line of communication with your loved one’s caregivers, ideally through face-to-face contact, and be aware of subtle changes in your loved one, such as a lack of appetite, becoming withdrawn, acting out or self-harming, or repetitive movements, such as rocking or swaying. Immediately contact the caregiver’s supervisor and the local authorities if you suspect elder abuse.
If you are your loved one’s caregiver, seek immediate help if you become overwhelmed with your duties, or seek caregiver support through one of the programs listed on the National Center on Elder Abuse’s website.