Rates of elder abuse increased during the COVID-19 pandemic because of social isolation—a well-documented risk factor for experiencing elder abuse.
Reports estimate that at least 10% of adults age 65 and older will experience some form of elder abuse in a given year, with some older adults experiencing more than one type of abuse simultaneously.
While pandemic concerns have largely abated, new economic challenges have subsequently increased the frequency of elder financial abuse. Experts also worry about underreporting, with as few as 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse ever being reported.
Despite legal protections and social campaigns to generate awareness, elder abuse continues to undermine the well-being of older adults.
DEFINITION OF ELDER ABUSE
Elder abuse is “An intentional act or failure to act by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.” It’s a term under which five types of abuse are reflected:
- Caregiver Neglect
- Financial Fraud & Exploitation
- Psychological Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
- Physical Abuse
U.S. Department of Justice
WHY IT MATTERS
More than 1 in 6 Americans were 65 or older in 2020, or nearly 20 percent of the population, according to a new report. And projections anticipate the percentage of the population age 65 and older to continue to grow in the coming decades.
With a greater number of older adults living in our communities, and limited resources to properly care for them, the risk of abuse is likely to increase.
Everyone has a stake in preventing elder abuse. Learning how to identify elder abuse and how to confront it can help improve the lives of seniors today as well as future seniors.
SIGNS OF MISTREATMENT
Signs of elder abuse can be obvious in some cases while imperceptible in others. This requires us to take a more active role in checking in on our older loved ones. In addition to knowing common signs of physical abuse or neglect, it’s just as important to catch the subtleties of other types of mistreatment. Here’s what to watch for:
Warning signs might include dehydration; malnutrition; untreated injuries; hazardous, unsafe, or unsanitary living conditions.
Financial Fraud & Exploitation
Look out for sudden changes to bank accounts or banking practices, like an unexplained withdrawal of money; unauthorized withdrawals of funds using the older adult’s ATM card; abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents; a forged signature; or maybe the sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives.
Signs of psychological abuse might include a sudden shift in personality; quick to irritation; extreme withdrawal; unusual behaviors like sucking, biting, or rocking; a change in sleeping patterns or eating habits; apologizing excessively; depression or anxiety.
There might be bruises around the breasts or genital area; unexplained venereal disease or genital infections; excessive itching of the genitals; unexplained bleeding; blood on sheets or the older adult’s clothing; they may show fear or become withdrawn when a specific person is around.
Watch out for pressure marks or sores on the body; cuts and scrapes; bruises or welts; burns; head injuries; or broken bones. Signs of physical abuse might also include sudden changes in personality, mental health issues, or financial problems.
WHAT TO DO
Most states have laws that protect adults with disabilities of any age from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Unfortunately, at-risk seniors may not have the means or capacity to report abuse themselves.