According to the CDC, “Elder abuse is an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. An older adult is someone age 60 or older. The abuse often occurs at the hands of a caregiver or a person the elder trusts.” This is a violation of human rights and it includes physical, sexual & emotional abuse, neglect and financial abuse.
This is a very important topic to address, approximately 1 in 6 people above age 60 are affected. Each year, thousands of older people are abused or neglected. The abuser is usually a family member, most often an adult child who is the older person’s caregiver. Sometimes professional caregivers, such as home health care workers , etc. abuse older people. As a result of the pressure and demand their responsiblity places on them, caregivers might develop resentment and unintentionally act in an abusive way towards the individual. Sometimes caregivers are unaware they are abusing the older individual,
- Physical Abuse : This is when an elder experiences illness, pain, injury, distress, or death as a result of the intentional use of physical force and includes acts such as hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, burning, false imprisonment/confinement, or giving excessive/improper medication
- Sexual Abuse: This involves forced or unwanted sexual interaction of any kind with an older adult. This may include unwanted sexual contact or penetration or non-contact acts such as sexual harassment or forcing them to participate in conversation of a sexual nature.
- Psychological and emotional abuse: this is a verbal or nonverbal behaviour that causes mental pain, fear and distress to older adults. For instance; Humilation, disrespect, infantalization, interpersonal isolation.
- Neglect: This is a failure to meet the basic needs(food, clothes, shelter, water, medical care and hygiene) of the older adult. It can also involve leaving an individual who is at risk of danger unattended(e.g at risk for falls). Neglect could be intentional or unintentional
- Elder Financial abuse: is the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an elder’s money, benefits, belongings, property, or assets for the benefit of someone other than the older person. This can also be referred to as financial exploitation.
Although all older people are at riskof abuse, it is more likely when older people;
- Are physically frail, often because of disabling chronic disorders
- Are socially isolated
- Have dementia, confusion or any mental illness
Abuse is also more likely when the abusers
- Are financially dependent on or living with the older person
- Abuse alcohol or drugs
- Have a violent past
- Have a lot on their plate; like financial responsibility, death, etc,
- Lack the skills and resources, thereby making caregiving frustrating
- Have a disorder (such as dementia) that makes them agitated or violent (even if they were previously mild-mannered)
Signs of Elder Abuse
- Broken bones or fractures
- Poor physical appearance
- Changes in mental status
- Frequent infections
- Bruising, welts, or cuts
- Unexplained weight loss
- Refusal to speak
- Signs of dehydration
- Lack of cleanliness
There are some things that we can do as individuals to prevent elder abuse
- Listen to older adults and their caregivers to understand their challenges and provide support.
- Educate oneself and others about how to recognize and report elder abuse..
- Check-in often on older adults who may have few friends and family members.
- Provide over-burdened caregivers with support such as: help from friends, family, or local relief care groups
- adult day care programs
- Encourage and assist persons (either caregivers or older adults) having problems with drug or alcohol abuse in getting help.