Elder abuse is a world-wide social problem. It is estimated that one in ten adults over the age of 60 will be the victim of abuse or neglect. Elder abuse is also an underreported crime. While about 1500 cases are reported in Erie County each year only 5% of victims ever report their abuse to law enforcement. While abuse can happen to anyone, recent research from the United Kingdom suggests that about 70% of elder abuse victims are women and 78% are over the age of 70.
Elder abuse is defined by the World Health Organization as "a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person." (elderabuse.org.uk) While a variety of circumstances are considered elder abuse, it does not include general criminal activity such as break-ins, muggings on the street, etc.
The common types of elder abuse include:
- Physical – hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, restraining, false imprisonment, confinement, giving excessive or improper medications, withholding treatment.
- Psychological/Emotional – A common theme is a perpetrator who identifies something that matters to an older person and then uses it to coerce them into a particular action. It can also be yelling, name calling, humiliating, constantly criticizing, blaming, ignoring, withdrawing affection.
- Financial – misappropriation of financial resources, stealing, using financial means to control the person or to facilitate other types of abuse.
- Sexual – forcing a person to take part in any sexual activity without their consent including forcing them to participate in conversations of a sexual nature against their will.
- Neglect – depriving a person of proper medical treatment, food, heat, clothing or comfort or essential medication. Also, depriving a person of needed services to force certain kinds of actions, financial and otherwise. Neglect can also include leaving an at-risk person unattended.
The following are types of abuse are not always recognized as abuse:
- Self-neglect – any person not caring about their own health, well-being or safety. While this is treated differently than abuse self-neglect can lead to injury, illness, or even death.
- Rights abuse – denying the civil and constitutional rights to a person who is older, but not declared by a court to be mentally incapacitated.
- Abandonment – deserting a dependent person with the intent to abandon them or leave them unattended at a place for such a time as may be likely to endanger their health or welfare.
Some Signs of Elder Abuse:
- Broken bones or fractures
- Poor physical appearance
- Changes in mental state
- Frequent infections
- Bruising, welts or cuts
- Unexplained weight loss
- Refusal to speak
- Signs of dehydration
- Lack of cleanliness
In addition to signs observed in an elderly individual, abuse can also be detected by noticing changes in the caregivers' behavior. For example, the caregiver may not allow them to speak with family, friends or visitors or receive visitors. The caregiver may exhibit indifference or a lack of affection toward the elder or refer to the elder as a burden.
Hearts and Hands Elder Abuse Policy and Procedures
The health and safety of our care receivers is a primary concern for Hearts and Hands, it is the essence of what we do. Our care receivers can be vulnerable to many different types of abuse and neglect due to their physical or cognitive limitations.
Because of your direct work with elderly, frail and disabled individuals Hearts and Hands believes that it is essential for you to know the signs of these different types of abuse and how to intervene and advocate on behalf of our care receivers. The information and video presented here are designed to help you understand more about elder abuse.
How to respond
If you observe any signs of abuse or molestation and suspect that a care receiver is in immediate danger call 911 immediately. Stay with the care receiver until help arrives. After the situation is resolved and the care receiver is safe call your coordinator, the Program Manager, or another Hearts and Hands staff member.
If you observe signs of on-going, non-life-threating forms of abuse or molestation or suspect for any reason that a care receiver is the victim of such abuse call your coordinator, the Program Manager or another Hearts and Hands staff member as soon as possible.
When a member of Hearts and Hands management is informed that there is a suspicion of any abuse Hearts and Hands management will call Adult Protective Services in the appropriate jurisdiction.
The above information was adapted from: Crisis Services, the National Institutes of Health, the National Center for Elder Abuse, the Administration for Community Living, Heart and Hands policy, and Wikipedia.