Editor’s Note: National Elder Abuse Prevention Day is June 16.
Recently I learned of a shocking situation occurring to an older friend of mine. She was systematically being abused psychologically and economically by acquaintances in her own home and none of her friends suspected. She is just one example of the shameful and underreported rise of elder abuse in our culture. Who would do such a criminal act?
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, perpetrators are most likely to be adult children or spouses, more likely to be male, to have a history of past or current substance abuse (as was true with my friend), to have mental or physical health problems, to have history of trouble with the police, to be socially isolated, to be unemployed or have financial problems, and to be experiencing major stress.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), “Most cases of elder abuse are perpetrated by known and trusted others, particularly family members.” The World Health Organization says “Elder Abuse is a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation and despair.”
Not only is such abuse unlawful and morally wrong, it costs society more than $5 billion in annual expenses to pay for the medical costs of injuries. Add to this the expenses for the prosecution, punishment, and rehabilitation of elder abuse perpetrators.
This abuse has become so prevalent that a World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was launched by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. June 15 will be the 10th anniversary of WEAAD whose purpose is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
Just in America, there are an estimated 5 million older Americans who are victims of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation every year. Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported.
Elder abuse can include neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and exploitation, emotional or psychological abuse and neglect (including verbal threats), abandonment and self-neglect. According to available data, financial exploitation is the most common type of elder abuse. It is estimated that elders throughout the United States lose a minimum of $2.9 billion annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation.
Elder abuse affects seniors across all socio-economic groups, cultures and races. Elder abuse can happen anywhere – home or in care facilities – and when we are old enough, it can happen to us.
Women and elders 80 years and older are more likely to be victimized and mistreated more often by the victim’s own family member. Many of them are reluctant to report abuse because they may feel ashamed and embarrassed. A recent study, which did not include those with dementia, indicated that 11% of U.S. elders surveyed had experienced some type of abuse or neglect during the previous year. Those with dementia are determined to be of even greater risk. Elders who experience abuse, neglect, or self-neglect are at considerably higher risk for premature death than those who have not been mistreated.
Every day 10,000 people turn 65 in the U.S. In 14 years (2030), there will be over 72 million older people, twice as many as in 2007. This is almost 20% of the total population. The 85 plus population will experience a 15% increase to over six million by 2020.
It is up to us to promote respect and dignity for older adults. One way we can do this is to keep in contact and talk with our older friends, neighbors, and relatives frequently. Offer to provide a night off for caregivers who have a very hard job, requiring much patience. The faith community may be in a position to observe for signs of abuse and neglect in their visits.
Together we have the power to stop elder abuse. If you suspect elder abuse, don’t assume a suspicious situation has already been reported. If you feel this is a life threatening situation or immediate danger call 911.
There are many agencies locally for help and more information. These sites will help you locate that help: • The NCEA website at www.ncea.aoa.gov or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116. • The Long Term Care Ombudsman website. www.ltcombudsman.org/ombudsman • www.eldercare.gov. • The National Domestic Violence Hotline
You can reach the Hotline 24 hours at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.