Elder Abuse in the United States
Like most types of abuse, elder abuse is believed to be significantly underreported worldwide. Most studies have found that, in the United States in particular, about 1 in 10 seniors are victims of abuse inflicted most often by a family member (most likely an adult child, but sometimes a spouse or other relatives. Of course, there is also what’s referred to as Institutional Abuse, perpetrated by financial advisers, attorneys, nurses, physicians, nursing home or assisted living facility personnel, and live-in professional caregivers. Unsurprisingly, the most vulnerable seniors are those suffering from cognitive decline and/or physical conditions that make them reliant on the care of others.
Elder abuse comes in many forms:
o Physical abuse – examples that would most likely come to mind include hitting, kicking, slapping, etc., but physical abuse can also entail restraining an elderly person without their consent (and without a medical reason to do so), locking them up, or tying them to furniture. There are signs you can look out for, such as bruising (especially on the face or torso), broken bones with no reported injuries, burns, or restraint marks.
o Financial abuse – unfortunately, this type of abuse can be difficult to detect and often goes on for years before coming to light. Some examples of financial abuse in elders include directly stealing their cash or valuables, scamming them, using their credit cards without consent, forging checks or financial documents, using undue influence or manipulation tactics in their financial decisions, etc.
o Emotional abuse – this can entail verbal abuse, infantilizing an elder, gaslighting, threatening them, or keeping them from seeing or communicating with certain people in their lives. Psychological abuse in elders can often be detected through direct or indirect reports, as well as signs of fear, isolation, depression, or personality changes.
o Sexual abuse – this includes all non-consensual sexual acts, touching, forced nudity, or even forced witnessing/watching of sexual acts, noting that older adults who have serious cognitive decline are to be assumed unable to give consent. Non-physical signs of sexual abuse in the elderly can be similar to those in children, such as aggressively or overly sexual behavior, secrecy and social withdrawal, PTSD symptoms, or talking about/reenacting sexual scenarios with a perp/victim dynamic. Physical signs can include pelvic injuries as well as STD’s.
o Abandonment or neglect – while abandoning an elderly person without arranging their care plans can be a more obvious form of abuse, the more common form is neglect. This happens when a caregiver does not leave an elderly person yet fails to provide adequate care, including providing food and adequate shelter, ensuring proper hygiene, following medical advice from professionals, etc.
Geriatric care management firms, such as Senior Steps, inc., are a strong resource for seniors in abusive situations due to their thorough involvement in a client’s life as experienced advocates. If you become aware of ongoing elder abuse, call 911 if you believe the victim to be in danger and talk to them about calling Senior Steps for a FREE consultation.