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Elder Abuse and Neglect

elder abuse and neglect, abused older person

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Unfortunately, neglect and abuse are widespread problems in our society. Children, women, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to abuse, which can be emotional or physical.

Each year hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. Many victims are people who are older, frail, and vulnerable and cannot help themselves and depend on others to meet their most basic needs. Abusers of older adults are both women and men, and may be family members, friends, or “trusted others.”

Elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Legislatures in all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws.

The number of people who live to age 90 and beyond has tripled in the past three decades to 2 million and is projected to quadruple by 2050, according to the Census Bureau.  As their numbers grow, the economy may force some elderly to live with children and grandchildren, a situation that may tempt the unscrupulous to take advantage of the old in their care.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging estimated that as many as five million older Americans may be victims of abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation every year. These vulnerable elders are subject to injury and to premature death. 

Warning Signs

Just as there are many types of abuse, there are also numerous signs or symptoms that abuse may be taking place. The following signs do not always indicate an abusive situation, but can be important clues to possible abuse or neglect.

Symptoms of an Abused Older Person

  • Unusual or unexplained injuries (cuts, bruises, burns)
  • Unkempt appearance
  • Pressure or bed sores
  • Confinement against will (tied to furniture or locked in room)
  • Dehydration or malnutrition without a medical cause
  • Fear
  • Withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Visits to many doctors or hospitals
  • Strange and inconsistent explanations for injuries
  • Helplessness
  • Hesitation to talk openly

Symptoms of an Abuser

  • Verbally assaulting, threatening or insulting the older person
  • Concerned only with the older person's financial situation and not his or her health or well-being
  • Problems with alcohol or drug abuse
  • Not allowing the older person to speak for him or herself
  • Blaming the older person
  • Attitudes of indifference or anger toward the older person
  • Socially isolating the older person from others

It’s difficult to take care of a senior who has many different needs, and it’s difficult to be elderly when age brings with it infirmities and dependence. Both the demands of caregiving and the needs of the elder can create situations in which abuse is more likely to occur.

If you suspect that an elderly person is at risk from a neglectful or overwhelmed caregiver, or being preyed upon financially, it’s important to speak up. Learn about the warning signs of elder abuse, what the risk factors are, and how you can prevent and report the problem.

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