Frequently Asked Questions About Elder Abuse

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is defined as a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation and despair. According to National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) in the Administration on Aging in the United States, the 2010 census recorded the greatest increase in our elderly persons age 65 and older at 40.3 million or 13 percent of our total population. This growing number is due to our success in medical and technological advances, but it is just as important to ensure quality of life for those who have had the tenacity to live a long life. Due to this increase, more disabled and vulnerable elders may place additional physical and emotional strain on both institutional and non-institutional caregivers. Many people who are entrusted to care for elders can become stressed, depressed or overwhelmed, which can lead to mistreatment and abuse of the elderly person in their trusted care.

Many elders become frail and are unable to stand up to bullying or fight back. They may be confused or forgetful, making them easy targets for abuse, neglect or extortion. Most cases of reported abuse in elder abuse law happen in the elderly person’s own home or in a relative’s home. The abuser can be a friend, relative or even a spouse who is overwhelmed and does not take the time to get additional support or help because they feel like they can manage the situation. An elderly person that develops Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may be especially difficult to handle because of the nature of this illness. Many caregivers fail to use the resources available to them, resulting in negligence or abuse of the elder person they are entrusted to care for.

What are the warning signs of elder abuse or senior abuse?

  • Elderly person appears to have a change in their personality or behavior. They may seem more irritable, withdrawn, scared or confused.
  • Frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and the elderly person, where both parties may be more stressed and confrontational.
  • Caregiver’s refusal to allow others to visit the elderly person.
  • Any unusual physical marks on the elderly person, such as abrasions, scratches and bruises.
  • An elderly person who has a disability, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may be at more of a risk for abuse due to the complexity of their condition.
  • An elderly person who has a history of domestic violence in the past may be at more risk of being a victim of abuse.
  • Social isolation if the caretaker and the elderly person are alone together most of the time.

How can I help prevent elder abuse & neglect?

It is up to all of us to protect and safeguard the elderly from potential senior abuse and neglect. We can do this by listening, observing and questioning elders when we see drastic changes in their behavior and personality. We can intervene on the elder’s behalf if we suspect they may be a victim of fraud, neglect or abuse. We can educate ourselves, the elderly person and others about how to recognize signs of abuse/neglect and how to report a potentially harmful situation before it gets any worse. We must keep in mind that the elder may feel helpless against their perpetrator, especially if the abuser is a friend or family member, or in a position of power such as in a nursing home.