Elder Abuse Awareness
The maltreatment of an elder including physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, confinement, abandonment, and willful deprivation of necessary things such as medicine, food, shelter, medical care, etc., is a significant public health problem. In the United States, nearly 1 in 10 persons over the age of 60 that live at home have been abused in such a way, and it remains likely that this is an underestimated statistic as it is likely that many cases may go unreported. The perpetrators are often adult children, spouses, or other close family members who are the primary caregivers. Abuse may commonly take the form of passive neglect, in which the lack of information or education leaves an elder exposed to poor caregiving skills.
What are common risk factors for Elder Abuse?
Although specific reasoning for abuse cases are unique and complex, there are common factors that are often associated with the abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit, these factors include:
Dementia: One study indicated that nearly 50% of people with dementia experienced some form of abuse.
Low social support: This factor significantly raises the risk for all forms of abuse.
Dependency: When a person is cognitively or physically impaired, they remain dependent on their perpetrator and may hesitate to report abuse because of fear that they will have no one else to care for them if the abuser is taken away.
Isolation: This is similar to low social support in which the victim has fewer people to reach out to and the perpetrator is able to take advantage of a variety things including forging of signatures, denying access to personal financial accounts, or taking away any social or emotional support such as other family members or friends.
History of mental illness: If the perpetrator has a history of mental illness, has had difficulty with coping methods in the past for stressful situations, or even demonstrates addictive behaviors to alcohol, drugs, or gambling, these can all act as risk factors for an elder being abused.
Caregiver stress: The stress of giving care without the opportunity for respite care, taking care of a younger generation at the same time, and not being supported for their role as caregiver (whether it is the inability for the elder to express their gratitude or other family members or friends not being supportive) can all become overwhelming and lead to inappropriate demonstrations of abuse.
Gender: Females are more likely to be abused than males.
Poor Health Conditions: High physical or emotional impairment normally indicates a more demanding and prominent need for intense care that raises the risk factor for abuse.
Lower Economical Status: Whether it be the lack of resources or acting as a contextual social stressor, "lower income or poverty status is associated with elder abuse".
How can we prevent Elder Abuse?
There are many ways that can help family members and friends of an elder remain at a heightened awareness of any abuse situations and taking steps to prevent all forms of abuse. The National Council on Aging and The Nursing Home Abuse Center share the following tips:
- Do not give out your personal information over the phone.
- Review your will from time to time and do not allow rash decision by a caregiver to alter the will to include themselves or any land titles in their name.
- Stay active in your community activities or hobbies to keep engaged and refrain from becoming isolated.
- Use direct deposit for your checks
- Become educated and learn about resources for caregivers
- Have family members or friends seek help for any mental illness, addictive behaviors, or their own physical health problems
- Have active communication with your loved one about any care they are receiving and look into anything that may seem off about the relationship
- If an elder is living in a household with multiple other people, be aware of any roommate that has been violent or abusive in the past.
- Review and be wary of family members or friends or are requesting financial assistance as they may end of taking financial advantage of an elder.
- Be aware of any social media, phone, or other Internet scams
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day designated by the United Nations is June 15 each year as the world population sees an increase in the number of older persons. It is important to remain vigilant and active in your loved one's life to help prevent abuse situations.
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