February 7th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Elder abuse: could 1 in 10 be a victim?

by Dorian Martin

One in 10 — it’s a number that definitely gets your attention. That’s how many seniors have been abused in some form at least once, according to a study quoted in a recent Associated Press story. That’s a scary number and it has the potential to rise because of demographic trends.

The aging of the population puts more people at risk. The article pointed out that the number of Americans who are 65 years of age and above is projected to nearly double by 2030 — the Baby Boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, accounts for 74 million people, and the number of individuals who are aged 85 and older is climbing fast. Currently, public officials estimate that 2 million seniors are abused annually, based on available statistics and surveys. And if instead the figure is indeed one in 10 seniors being abused, we have a very serious and very hidden epidemic on our hands.

Defining elder abuse

So what exactly is elder abuse? Here’s the definition from MedlinePlus, which is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine: “doing something or failing to do something that results in harm to an elderly person or puts a helpless older person at risk of harm.” MedlinePlus lists the following examples:

  1. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  2. Neglecting or deserting an older person for whom a caregiver is responsible
  3. Taking or misusing an elderly person’s money or property

There is no specific set location where elder abuse happens. MedlinePlus stated that this abuse can happen within a family or in settings such as a hospital, nursing home or senior center. Each of the 50 states has laws against elder abuse as well as systems for reporting suspected abuse; however, the laws differ from state to state.

Warning signs of elder abuse

So what are the signals to look out for? The National Center on Elder Abuse FAQ points to these telling signs, which are often unexpected or unexplained:

  • Signs of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment, such as bruises, pressure marks, burns or broken bones
  • Sudden changes like withdrawal from normal activities, unusual depression or a change in alertness
  • Problems with finances, which can be a result of exploitation
  • Bedsores, medical needs that are not taken care of, problems with personal hygiene or weight loss
  • Spouses who display behavior such as threats, belittling or other examples of power and control
  • Difficult interpersonal relationships or frequent disagreements between the caregiver and the elder

If you suspect someone is being abused, the National Center on Elder Abuse State Directory lists contacts and resources so you can find out who to call to report your concerns. However, if you suspect an elder is in imminent danger, please call 911 or the local police to get immediate help.

ElderCarelink.com has other articles on this important and distressing topic, for example:

  1. Elder abuse can be subtle
  2. In-Home care can help stem elder abuse
  3. When caregiver stress leads to abuse
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