Today, older people are more visible, more involved and more autonomous than ever before. They live longer, and they are safer. But as America’s elderly population rises, so does the secret issue of elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect.
Single or repetitive behavior, or lack of acceptable behavior, occurs in any relationship where there is a presumption of trust that causes damage or discomfort to the elderly. This form of violence constitutes human rights abuses and involves physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; neglect of the welfare of the elderly; and extreme loss of dignity and respect. More than half a million elder abuse incidents happen to authorities in the US alone every year, and millions more cases go unreported.
Like other types of abuse, elder abuse is a complicated issue, and people’s myths about it are simple. Many people who hear the abuse and neglect of the elderly think of the elderly who live in nursing homes or the elderly who live alone and rarely have visitors. But harassment of the elderly is not just a matter of the elderly living on the edge of our daily lives. It’s right between us
- Most cases of elder abuse do not occur in nursing homes or other institutional settings.
- Most of the old violence and neglect is happening at home.
- Many forms of elder abuse are committed by trusted individuals, but by self-denial, elders may mislead themselves.
- Elder violence goes beyond physical and emotional violence. There are seven main forms of violence, including sexual and financial abuse.
Types of Abuse
- Physical elder abuse – Inadvertent use of force against an elderly person leading to physical distress, disability or impairment. Such violence involves not only physical attacks such as hitting or shoving, but also illegal substance use, isolation or control.
- Sexual abuse – Contact Elderly without their permission. Such interactions may involve physical sexual acts, but behaviors such as showing pornographic material to an elderly person, forcing a person to perform sexual acts, or forcing an elderly person to undress, are often considered to be sexual harassment by the elderly.
- Emotional or psychological abuse – May involve a caregiver saying hurtful things, screaming, threatening, or repeatedly ignoring the elderly. Another type of emotional abuse is to prevent a person from seeing close friends and relatives.
- Neglect – It occurs when the caregiver refuses to protect the elder from harm or meets the needs of the elder in such a way as to cause or threaten serious injury. Neglect is not an innocent accident — it is the product of carelessness or lack of consideration for the health of the elderly.
- Abandonment – Sometimes, combined with neglect, elder abandonment occurs when someone who has taken care of an elderly person intentionally leaves them. The former caregiver may leave the elder without any formal agreement in a hospital, nursing home or other care facility, or with relatives who have not agreed to be caregivers.
- Financial abuse – Can vary from abuse of funds to embezzlement by an older person. Financial exploitation includes fraud, taking money under false pretenses, forgery, forced transfer of property, buying expensive items with an elderly person’s money without that person’s knowledge or permission, or denying an elderly person access to his or her own funds or home.
- Self-neglect – The ultimate and perhaps most overlooked form of elder abuse is self-denial. Self-denial occurs when an elderly person is no longer in a position to meet his or her basic daily needs but does not make arrangements to meet those needs of others. Elder self-denial may involve an elder’s inability to handle finances properly, get adequate nutrition and hydration, dress itself, maintain basic hygiene and maintain medical self-care at home
How to prevent Elder Abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Recognizing that no one of any age should be exposed to aggressive, abusive, degrading or incompetent behavior is the first and most important step in preventing older violence. In addition to fostering this social mentality, proactive measures should be taken, such as educating people about elderly abuse, increasing the availability of respite care, facilitating improved social interaction and support for families with vulnerable elderly adults, and encouraging therapy and treatment to deal with personal and family problems that lead to abuse. Violence, harassment and neglect against older people are indicators that urgently require the support of the people concerned.
As a caregiver, the following measures will help to prevent violence or neglect of the elderly:
- Take immediate action to relieve tension and burnout. Stress is a major contributor to the exploitation and neglect of elderly people. By practicing stress relief methods such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises on a regular basis, you can help reduce stress levels.
- Ask for support from friends, family or local relief organizations or find adult daycare services. Every caregiver needs to take daily breaks, if only for a few hours, from the burden of caring for the elderly and taking care of their own needs.
- Caring for yourself. If you don’t have enough rest, you’re much more likely to succumb to frustration. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and take care of your own medical needs.
It may be gratifying to take care of an elderly person. It’s also a challenging, intense, and sometimes stressful job. The caregiver may need to be available 24 hours a day for cooking meals, providing health care, taking care of laundry and cleaning, driving to medical appointments, and paying bills. Family carers must also give up paid work in order to make room for these new obligations.