Articles of Interest

Elder Abuse Grows

The number of people who live to age 90 and beyond has tripled in the past 30 years to 2 million and is projected to quadruple by 2050, according to the Census Bureau. The number of 65 and older grew 15.1% since 2000 to 40.3 million or 13% of the total population.

If for no other reason than we are entrenched in the elder care field through our work, we understand better than most the vulnerable nature of the elder citizen. Abuse comes in many forms: financial, sexual, social (isolation for example), neglect, physical, and emotional, with financial and emotional seen most often.

Part of the problem is the lack of reporting of this terrifying type of abuse. One reason for the lack of reporting is that many, if not most, of the abusers are the caregivers who are entrusted with caring for the elder they end up abusing. Why would they report that fact that they abused their charge?

“The National Academy of Sciences estimates that only one in fourteen cases comes to the attention of authorities.” On a related note, “The Elder Justice Act passed in 2010, but has received zero funding while states cut budgets.” (Ibid.)  Internationally, it is estimated that abuse occurs to between 2.5% and 6% of elder people of 65 years of age.

Those who are most vulnerable to abuse are:
•  Those in need of high levels of support and care from a family member
•  Women who have experienced domestic violence
•  Those who are isolated from neighbors, family, and/or community
•  Those people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are socially isolated, without English language skills and 
    wholly dependent on family members
•  People suffering from dementia who might be confused about their property, belongings and/or surroundings
•  Frail older people whose own aggressive and violent behavior, or personality change associated with dementia or chronic illness
   might provoke abuse
•  Those indigenous older people in communities where cultural obligations make it difficult for them to say no to pressure for money

Source: Office for Ageing, 2007, New South Wales

Two areas of intervention are required: early intervention or prevention and after abuse support. With regard to the latter, the use of abuse shelters for the elderly is finally beginning to take hold; at least they are making a presence in this under supported area. Places such as the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx, New York City and the Cedar Village Retirement Community in the Cincinnati area of Mason are beginning to open their doors to support abused elders. However, very, very few of these facilities are available and funding for such facilities is nearly non-existent.

With such a poor showing of “after-the-fact” support, it is incumbent on caregivers, community agencies, and companies such as Visiting Angels to provide early intervention to help prevent the rising number of elder abuse cases.

Some key strategies for preventing abuse include:
•  Encouraging and supporting older people to stay active and socially connected
•  Ensuring that older people have access to independent information and advice prior to making decisions about financial and
   housing matters
•  Educating older people to assert their rights and gain support where necessary
•  Facilitating older people’s use of powers of attorney and guardianship which can enable them to plan for and have choice over
   who will have control over their affairs if they lose capacity in the future
•  Educating professionals to identify and respond to abuse, and,
•  Raising community awareness of abuse

Source: The Benevolent Society of Australia, Paddington, NSW, Australia, Abuse of Older People: Research to Practice Briefing 3, February 2010.

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