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The Eldercare Advocate Elder Abuse: An Unfortunate Reality

February 5, 2020|abuse, abusers, advocacy, Aging Parents, caregivers, confinement, Depression, deprivation, Dignity, elder abuse, elder abuse penalties, elder justice, Eldercare, emotional abuse, financial abuse, food and medications, Generations, Grandchildren, Grandparents, Isolation, Loneliness, neglect, physical abuse, prevention, psychological abuse, Quality Care, Quality of Life, Respect, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, violence, Well-Being,

The statistics for elder abuse in the United States are staggering. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, one in ten adults over the age of 60 has experienced some form of abuse. Approximately one in fourteen cases of abuse are reported to authorities. There are estimates that approximately five million older adults are abused each year in the United States.

What constitutes elder abuse?

Elder abuse can be defined as intentional actions inflicted on an elder to cause harm or create a serious risk of harm, or failure to protect the elder from harm or meet the elder’s basic needs[1] is a violation of the fundamental right to safety and freedom from violence and requires urgent social action.[2]

Abuse against an elder is no different that abuse against any other person at any age and includes psychological, emotional, physical, sexual and financial, exploitation, neglect and abandonment.

Who are the abusers of our elders?

Both male and female adult children, spouses, other family members, and agency caregivers, in the community. Oftentimes, stress experienced by caregivers, especially family members, plays a role in elder abuse. However, abusers can include staff at nursing homes, assisted living facilities or even adult day community service centers. Statistics report that approximately two thirds of all perpetrators of abuse against elders are family members, usually either an adult child or spouse.

Some of the most vulnerable adults who become victims of abuse are those persons who are socially isolated, have a physical or mental disability or cognitive impairment; such as  Alzheimer’s Disease or other type of dementia.

According to the National Council on Aging, “Elders who have been abused have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated”.[3] Financial abuse and fraud against older Americans reportedly ranges anywhere from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion annually, though the actual amount is suspected to be greater. Despite the high number of older adults who are more likely to die as a result of abuse, financial exploitation is more often reported than emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect.

Who are the most vulnerable or susceptible to elder abuse?

Reports indicate than more than 65% of victims of elder abuse are women

How do you characterize the different types of abuse? [4]


Touching, fondling, intercourse of any other unwanted sexual encounter. Older adults who are especially vulnerable are those who are unable to understand or consent. 


Verbal assaults or threats of abuse, harassment and intimidation

Confinement: restraining or isolating. Although there may be situations medical conditions when a person may need to be confined.


This would include a caregiver who is not providing an older adult with the necessities for daily living or survival: food, clothing, shelter or medical care.

Willful deprivation:

When an older adult is denied medication, medical treatment, shelter, food, any necessary therapeutic equipment of physical assistance which may risk physical, mental or emotional harm.


Misusing or withholding an older adult’s financial resources.

How do you recognize abuse?

Physical abuse or mistreatment: Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, burns.

Verbal or Emotional abuse: 

Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, willingness to relate to others and/or sudden changes in demeanor, unusual depression; frequent arguments/yelling between the caregiver and older adult, belittling or harsh remarks or rebukes, threats or other methods the person uses to wield power or control

 Financial abuse: Sudden changes in financial status, including sudden unauthorized bank withdrawals, changes towills, deeds, health care proxy, power of attorney; or not being allowed to control ones finances in light of the ability to do so, eviction, possessions confiscated.



Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and/or nail care, unusual weight loss which may be the result of withholding food or liquid resulting in malnutrition or dehydration, inappropriate clothing, overall unkempt appearance, missing assistive devices (i.e., hearing aids, glasses or dentures

What are the penalties for those who engage in elder abuse?

Abusers of elders face criminal penalties in most states in the US. Because of the increasing numbers of elders experiencing abuse, and the increased attention brought to this serious issue, law enforcement officers and prosecutors now receive training in recognizing elder abuse situations so that the abusers face appropriate legal consequences. The National Council on Elder Abuse has valuable information on elder justice laws, statistics and available resources in each state.

How do you report elder abuse?

If you are in a situation in which you believe you are experiencing abuse, or have knowledge of threatening or can result in imminent danger, call 911. If the abusive situation is in a nursing home or other facility, contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman in your local area or the local authorities. 

What is the best means of prevention?

Educating all persons whether they be family members, caregivers and the public at large about elder abuse, the seriousness and widespread nature of the issue, and what people can do if they suspect, recognize or are aware of elder abuse.

As an older adult, what can you do to protect yourself against abuse?

Stay active, connected to friends and the community, as long as possible. This will guard against social isolation which is often at the root of abuse. In addition, oftentimes a person who has experienced abuse earlier in their lives is more susceptible to experiencing abuse as an adult. Similarly, if a person, especially a male, has been abused as a child, they may be more likely to become an abuser as an adult. Be aware and in touch with your history and seek out professional advice, support groups, friends or members of your religious community if needed.

Plan for your medical future when able to make your own decisions. This will help guard against a family member usurping your rights or becoming overbearing in your decision-making process. Seek legal advice as needed and consider a power of attorney, living will or making a decision to appoint a health care proxy whom you trust to make decisions in the event you are unable to do so. Review this information with an attorney or trusted adviser from time to time in the event there are changes you wish to make.

Be wary of people who call and request your personal information and do not give out any information to any unknown parties.  Do not let anyone open your mail without your knowledge. Make your own bank deposits. Now one can make deposits directly from their phone which can be especially beneficial for those unable to leave the house without assistance or who have mobility impairments.

Knowing your rights, whether living independently, living with relatives, or living in a nursing home or assisted living facility is crucial. In the nursing home environment, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman is available for support and to intervene on your behalf as needed.

For more information you can visit: The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA):, the National Center on Law & Elder Rights: and the Elder Justice Coalition:

[1]  National Research Council . Elder Abuse: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America. National Academies Press; Washington, DC, USA: 2003. pp. 34–59

[2] World Health Organization World Report on Violence and Health. [(accessed on 17 August 2018)]; Updated 2002. Available online:


[4] National Council on Aging

Listen in to the Feb 3rd episode of Voices for Eldercare Advocacy on the Voice America Empowerment Channel for the interview on Elder Abuse.

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