Elder abuse consists of any type of abuse inflicted on a person who is 60 years old and older. Types of elder abuse include physical, sexual, emotional, financial, neglect, and abandonment with research noting that about one in six elderly individuals are abused each year.
Physical abuse includes inflicting any purposeful bodily harm using objects or body parts. Examples of this include:
- Biting, pinching, smacking
- Hitting, kicking, slapping
- Throwing objects at the person
- Physically blocking them from escaping
- Inappropriately restraining
- Attempting to drown
Sexual abuse of the elderly can occur in nursing homes, at their own homes, in higher care facilities, and anywhere else where they may be in vulnerable situations. The highest reported incidence of elder sexual abuse has been noted to occur in nursing homes and was committed by employees and other residents. Types of sexual abuse include:
- Sexual battery
- Forced oral copulation
- Forced anal penetration
- Penetration with a foreign object
- Digital penetration
Emotional abuse can cause intense anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a study of around 10,000 elderly individuals, those with the highest amount of depressive symptoms were twice as likely to have experienced previous abuse. Examples of emotional abuse include:
- Gaslighting, otherwise known as crazy making
- Yelling and humiliating the victim
- Threatening and ignoring
Financial abuse is extremely under-reported with only about one in 44 cases actually reported and 90 percent of perpetrators being family members. About one in nine seniors reports being financially abused within the past year. Financial abuse includes:
- Money related scams and identity theft
- Accessing the victim's bank account without consent
- Refusing to give the victim appropriate care as a means of keeping more of their money
- Stealing credit cards, cash, and checks from the victim
- Threatening the victim's safety unless money is given
Neglect and Abandonment
Elder neglect occurs when an appointed caretaker does not provide appropriate care including adequate food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Self neglect occurs when an elderly individual stops taking care of themselves. This can also be reported as abuse. Abandonment occurs when an elderly individual is left to fend for themselves despite being physically or mentally unable to do so. Signs of neglect include poor hygiene, dehydration, malnutrition, soiled clothing, and unsafe housing conditions.
Prevalence of Elder Abuse
In a study of about 4,100 individuals aged 60 years or older, the incidence of abuse was around 4.6 percent. The breakdown was as follows:
- 1.8 percent experienced physical abuse.
- 1.9 percent experienced emotional abuse.
- 1.8 percent experienced neglect.
- Sexual abuse occurs to about .3 percent and up to 2.2 percent of adults who are 65 and older.
Other studies have cited that elder abuse impacts approximately 10 percent of the population in the United States, and researchers note this number is most likely grossly underestimated. Major risk factors include living with large amounts of family members, excluding one's spouse, which increases the chances of financial and physical abuse. Isolation is also a risk factor when it comes to all types of elder abuse.
Understanding Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is an all too common occurrence that can be perpetrated by family members, members of a healthcare team, facility staff members, peers, and anyone else in a position of power. If you suspect an elderly person is being abused, notify the police, an ombudsman, or Adult Protective Services right away.