Elderly Abuse – Definition
Every year, tens of thousands of elderly Americans are abused in their own homes, in relatives’ homes, and even in facilities responsible for their care. There are many definitions that try to explain this terrorist act towards the elderly. Some of the definitions are:
- Any action by someone in a relationship of trust that results in harm or distress to an older person
- Psychological or physical violence towards the elderly, exploitation of the elderly, violation of the rights of elders or abuse and/or neglect of elders
- A single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person
Several factors concerning elders themselves, while they don’t excuse abuse, influence whether they are at greater risk for abuse:
- The intensity of an elderly person’s illness or dementia
- Social isolation, the elder and caregiver are alone together almost all the time
- The elder’s role, at an earlier time, as an abusive parent or spouse
- A history of domestic violence in the home
- The elder’s own tendency toward verbal or physical aggression
In many cases, elder abuse, though real, is unintentional. Caregivers pushed beyond their capabilities or psychological resources may not mean to yell at, strike, or ignore the needs of the elders in their care. It is important to understand that elder abuse:
- Abuse involves men nearly as often as women
- Happens within private homes, social housing and institutional settings
- Occurs across all socio-economic classes
As elders become more physically frail, they’re less able to stand up to bullying and or fight back if attacked. They may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them. Mental or physical ailments may make them more trying companions for the people who live with them. These vulnerable people can be taken advantage of and abuse in a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. Elder abuse is a problem that exists in both developing and developed countries yet is typically underreported globally. Approaches to define, detect and address elder abuse need to be placed within a cultural context and considered alongside culturally specific risk factors
While it’s important for elders to seek refuge from abuse, either by calling a local agency or telling a doctor or trusted friend, many seniors don’t report the abuse they face even if they’re able. Many fear retaliation from the abuser, while others believe that if they turn in their abusers, no one else will take care of them. When the caregivers are their children, they may be ashamed that their children are behaving abusively or blame themselves: “If I’d been a better parent when they were younger, this wouldn’t be happening.” Or they just may not want children they love to get into trouble with the law. If you are an elder who is being abused, neglected, or exploited, tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust.
Preventing elder abuse means doing three things:
- Listening to seniors and their caregivers
- Intervening when you suspect elder abuse
- Educating others about how to recognize and report elder abuse
- Remember, the life you save down the line may be your own.
- How you can protect yourself, as an elder, against elder abuse
- Make sure your financial and legal affairs are in order. If they aren’t, enlist professional help to get them in order, with the assistance of a trusted friend or relative if necessary.
- Keep in touch with family and friends and avoid becoming isolated, which increases your vulnerability to elder abuse.
- If you are unhappy with the care you’re receiving, whether it’s in your own home or in a care facility, speak up. Tell someone you trust and ask that person to report the abuse, neglect, or substandard care to your state’s elder abuse helpline or long term care ombudsman, or make the call yourself.
What you can do as a caregiver to prevent elder abuse
If you are a caregiver and are overwhelmed by the demands of caring for an elder, do the following:
- Request help, from friends, relatives, or local respite care agencies, so you can take a break, if only for a couple of hours.
- Find an adult day care program.
- Stay healthy and get medical care for yourself when necessary.
- Adopt stress reduction practices.
- Seek counselling for depression, which can lead to elder abuse.
- Find a support group for caregivers of the elderly.
- If you’re having problems with drug or alcohol abuse, get help.
What you can do as a concerned friend or family member
- If the situation is an emergency and you believe that the person for whom you are concerned is at risk, call “911.”
- If you suspect an older adult is being abused but is not at risk of imminent harm, you should speak to that person. If your suspicions are confirmed you can then provide them with information regarding their rights or individuals/agencies who can assist them. If they are not ready to address the situation, offer your personal support until they are ready to take action.
- Watch for warning signs that might indicate elder abuse. If you suspect abuse, report it.
- Take a look at the elder’s medications. Does the amount in the vial jive with the date of the prescription?
- Watch for possible financial abuse. Ask the elder if you may scan bank accounts and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions.
- Call and visit as often as you can. Help the elder consider you a trusted confidante.
- Offer to stay with the elder so the caregiver can have a break — on a regular basis, if you can.