Vulnerability, as it applies to society, is the degree to which a population, individual or organization is unable to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impacts of disasters. Those who are considered to be most vulnerable in society include children, pregnant women, impoverished individuals and the elderly. Yet the elderly are often forgotten when communities try to protect those they perceive to be most vulnerable. When it comes to identifying elder abuse, statistics indicate we are 40 years behind in educating health care professionals, social workers, law enforcement and the public when in comparison to identifying child abuse and domestic violence.
There are many varieties of elder abuse. Physical abuse to an elder involves someone causing them bodily harm. It may also involve willful inaccuracy when administering medications, resulting in overdoses or under-medication. This type of abuse would be noted with bruising, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, burns, black eyes and welts. If an elder is being physically abused, they may display anger, fear, anxiety, nervousness or depression.
Emotional abuse, or psychological abuse, of an elder involves a caregiver yelling, threatening, insulting, intimidating or humiliating them verbally. They may also ignore the elder and prevent them from socializing. Elders who are suffering from emotional abuse may withdraw from normal activities, have significant weight loss, unusual depression, mood swings and strained or tense relationships. They may engage in arguments, lash out or display anger and fear.
Neglect occurs when the caregiver does not try to respond to the older person’s needs. This would be evident by bad hygiene, weight loss, social withdrawal and bedsores. Abandonment is when a caregiver leaves a senior alone without planning for their care.
Sexual abuse of an elder occurs when a caregiver forces an elder to watch or be part of sexual acts. Oftentimes elders can’t defend themselves from these attacks, and are accused of dementia and psychosis when they attempt to report such abuse.
Financial abuse is the financial exploitation or improper use of an elder’s assets, funds or property. It can include forging checks, taking their retirement and social security benefits or using their credit cards and bank accounts. It could include changing names on a will, bank account, life insurance policy or title to a house without permission from the elder. It is a widespread and hard issue to detect.
What is so malicious about elder abuse, in all its forms, is that it is committed by caregivers, be it nurses, aids or even family members. These people whom the elderly have placed their trust, and essentially their lives, to are abusing it in a most heinous manner.
Elder abuse is a hidden issue that is difficult to detect and even harder to prove. These individuals have gone their whole lives being contributing members of society and working hard to provide for their elder years, only to find themselves swept into homes where they are often forgotten. They are alone and often struggling with various physical and mental health issues. Add to that all the various forms of abuse and the result is a much higher risk of death, almost 300% higher, than those who are not abused.
Approximately ten percent of seniors are abused each year, with only 1 out of every 23 cases reported. As the U.S. population age 65 and older grows, this problem is only going to increase. As a society, we need to do better in terms of care for our elderly. Education regarding the signs of elder abuse is severely lacking, and that needs to change. Let’s create a world where the elderly live out the last of their days in dignity and respect, not in squalor and abuse.
Elder Abuse. National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/elder-abuse
Ellis, B. & Hicken, M. (February 2017). Sick, Dying, and Raped in America’s Nursing Homes. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/02/health/nursing-home-sex-abuse-investigation/
Keller, S. (July 16, 2017). Shari Keller: Elder Abuse: The Silent Condition Part II- Signs of Abuse. Salisbury Post. Retrieved from http://www.salisburypost.com/2017/07/16/shari-keller-elder-abuse-silent-condition-part-ii-signs-abuse/
Loftus, J. (September 20, 2016). Old and Alone: The Epidemic of Elder Abuse in America. Vice. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/4w5djp/old-and-alone-the-epidemic-of-elder-abuse-in-america
Silecchia, L. (June 15, 2017). Who are the victims of elder abuse? The disables, cognitively impaired and poor. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/06/15/who-are-the-victims-of-elder-abuse-the-disabled-cognitively-impaired-and-poor/?utm_term=.af9a71f69868