The World Health Organization estimates that 4-6% of the elderly suffer from some form of abuse. Exact numbers are difficult to ascertain because experts believe that worldwide, a significant portion of elder abuse goes unreported. The United Nations, in an attempt to increase awareness and combat the issue of physical, emotional, and financial abuse of elders, has designated June 15th as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The significance of this issue cannot be overstated, especially since according to U. S. Administration on Aging, just in our country, the population of those age 65 and older is expected to grow from about 40.2 million people in 2010 to 72.1 million by 2030.
Exactly what is elder abuse? The National Center on Elder Abuse defines it as “intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes (or may lead to) harm to a vulnerable elder.” Following are the different types of elder abuse and some of the warning signs of each.
- Inadequate meeting of basic needs such as hygiene, food, and clothing
- Inadequate supply of medical aids such as glasses, dentures, medications, and safety equipment (such as a walker)
- Lack of supervision of an individual with dementia
- Lack of care of an individual who is bedridden
- Unsanitary or unsafe living conditions such as lack of heating/cooling or basic appliances, fire hazards, home in disrepair
- Untreated health conditions such as wounds
- Financial Abuse/ Exploitation
- A “caregiver” has control of the elder’s finances but is not providing necessary or desired items for the elder’s care and well-being that the elder can afford
- The elder is giving away excessive sums of money or purchasing gifts in exchange for care and companionship
- The elder has signed documents that transfer property or assets but doesn’t understand the purpose of the documents
- Psychological/Emotional Abuse
- Changes in behavior, mood, activity level, or daily functioning that cannot be attributed to a medical condition
- “Caregiver” encourages the social isolation of the elder
- “Caregiver” is controlling, demeaning, or uncaring
- Physical/Sexual Abuse
- Unexplained injuries or sexually transmitted diseases
Elder abuse can occur regardless of race, culture, or socio-economic group, and affects people wherever they live. Several risk factors for abuse have been identified. Women and elders aged 80 and older are more likely to become victims of abuse, as well as those with dementia, mental health conditions or substance abuse issues. Poor physical health can lead to increased dependence on others and caregiver stress, thus increasing the risk of abuse. Social isolation also increases an elder’s vulnerability. Unfortunately, available information indicates that most elder abuse occurs at the hands of family members.
Next week’s column will address what can be done improve the identification and reporting of elder abuse, and reduce its occurrence.
Karen Kaslow, RN