What is elder abuse?

Linda Ercoli, PhD
Elder abuse is the neglect or financial abuse of, or violence toward somebody who is 65 years of age or older. It can also be such abuse against a person who has dementia, even if he or she is younger than 65, and is dependent on a caregiver. If you are over 65 and the person you are caring for is acting aggressively toward you, you're actually a victim of elder abuse, too.
Barbara Coombs Lee
Hospice Nursing
Elder abuse includes instances in which families, caregivers or others physically assault or verbally abuse elders in their care. Whether these instances arise from criminal pathology, frustration or plain meanness, we should all be on the lookout for such abusers, report them to authorities and encourage punishment.
Sharine Forbes
Geriatric Medicine

Elder abuse is a general terms which can be used to describe the intentional or unintentional physical abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse, monetary abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, abandonment or neglect of a vulnerable elder. Elder abuse is considered to be a crime and all of the states in America have passed legislations in order to prevent the abuse from happening. If you feel that there may be evidence of elder abuse it is important to call 911 immediately or call the elder abuse hotline at 1-800-677-1116 so that action can be taken to protect the victim.

Some of the most common signs that physical abuse is occurring is bruises, welts, unusual skin tears, and burns. Most common signs of emotional abuse are a sudden loss of interest in activities and hobbies. The signs of sexual abuse can include bruises or lesions around the genitals. Signs of financial abuse include a sudden inability to pay for the necessities, when they were able to before. Neglect towards an elder is best identified by poor hygiene, weight loss and bedsores. 

Elder citizens suffer the same abuses as the rest of the population; physical, mental or emotional, sexual, verbal, or economic. The definition for the abuse does not change, the age of the person abused changes.

Elder abuse is equally as deplorable as child abuse because they are a population that to some extent are helpless to protect themselves due to illness, isolation or dependence on others. Family members, neighbors and the general public need to be alert to elder abuse. Often the elder will be unable or unwilling to tell.

America is getting older fast.

In 2000, there were some 35 million people older than 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That figure is about to jump a wave of the oldest of the 76 million baby boomers hits 65.

Like anything else, an increase in population comes with an increase in opportunities for abuse. The more senior citizens there are, the more abused senior citizens there will be. Nearly one in 15 senior citizens-or 2 million seniors-were the victims of elder abuse. And those are just the cases that were reported. The reality is very likely much worse, with nearly one in three seniors facing elder abuse, according to the APA.

The stereotype is of a frail senior citizen becoming the victim of elder abuse at a heartless, soulless, dirty nursing home, where they wither away from neglect, covered in bed sores.

But, more often than not, the real culprit is a family member. A spouse perhaps. Or a child.

What is elder abuse?

Sometimes it is when a senior citizen is intentionally harmed.

Sometimes they are merely neglected.

Their frail physical and mental states can also make them targets for evil doers.

And sometimes, there may be no ill intent, but the caregiver is just unable to cope with the demands of taking care of a senior citizen.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.