Sadly, approximately one in 10 senior adults experience elder abuse in the United States. Each year, according to the National Council on Aging, it is estimated that up to 5 million seniors are abused, but only one in 14 cases is reported, meaning the majority of perpetrators are never prosecuted. Worse, the offense may continue.
With higher rates of both homicides and nonfatal assaults, more men are abused than women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What is elder abuse?
According to the CDC, elder abuse is defined as “an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.”
The person assigned to an elderly person’s care is often their abuser. Particularly saddening is the fact that nearly 60% of abusers are related to the older person they abuse, a large percentage of which are spouses or the elder’s adult children. The numbers are solid, given that familial caregivers make up 31% of households in the United States, the National Alliance for Caregiving noted.
The five types of senior abuse include: physical, sexual, emotional, neglect, and financial.
There are multiple reasons why elderly people find themselves at risk. Isolation is one of the primary reasons. Not having a voice is another. In a perfect world, a caregiver is an elderly person’s voice and greatest champion. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Compared to elderly persons who are well treated, abused elders have a 300% higher risk of death.
People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are unable to speak up for themselves or, given their cognitive challenges, may not be believed when they do. Alzheimer’s patients often come up with scenarios that simply aren’t true. Something in their brain triggers a false experience. They may retell another person’s experience as their own, or apply something they’ve seen in a movie or on television to their personal life experience.
Their storytelling could complicate whether or not they’re believed when pointing an accusatory finger at an abusive caregiver. This poses a difficult scenario for law enforcement personnel, who have been ill-equipped as elder abuse first responders — that is, until recently.
A few days before Christmas, the Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act was signed into law.
The Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement are the champions behind the bipartisan legislation, which will “require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop materials designed to assist law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, medical personnel, victims services personnel and others who encounter and support individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia,” according to a press release distributed by the Alzheimer’s Association.
The new law is a big step in the right direction for protecting elders. However, reporting crimes against seniors falls to the public. Abusive family members and caregivers certainly aren’t going to report themselves. Friends, family members, and casual observers have to learn the signs of abuse and be willing to get involved in protecting those who are vulnerable.
Take notice of an elderly person’s demeanor and physical appearance. Some elderly people have poor circulation and very thin skin that is prone to bruising. However, excessive bruising, broken bones, abrasions, pressure marks, and burns could all be signs of physical abuse.
Sudden weight loss might be a sign of neglect, as is a constant unkempt appearance and poor hygiene. Does the caregiver belittle the person in their care? Are they being harassed by harsh speech and name-calling? Is the elder verbally threatened?
If you suspect that an elder person is in immediate danger that could be life-threatening, call 911 and report it. If you suspect that an elder is being neglected or taken advantage of financially, contact the Adult Protective Services office in your local area.
There are criminal penalties for elder abuse, but it has to be reported.
More good than bad
Elder abuse is an enormous problem in the U.S., but it’s important to remember that the majority of familial caregivers are loving and supportive. While it is crucial that elder abuse is reported, it is also essential that good caregivers aren’t falsely accused. Even elderly people who are well cared for will have an occasional bedsore or bruising. They may even appear unkempt because they refused to allow the caregiver to brush their teeth or bathe them on the day you took notice. Be vigilant regarding abuse, but also complete due diligence in regards to reporting.
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.
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