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Overview of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse and neglect is a situation not many people are aware of. Yet, thousands of senior citizens in the United States alone face abuse on a regular basis.

As we age, our bodies become frail and defenseless against able-bodied attackers. But abuse doesn’t just stop there.  Mental abuse also plagues the elderly. Around 500,000 cases of abuse are reported annually, while even more go unreported.

Most cases of elder abuse occur in the home or living facility, and are usually performed by the senior’s caregiver(s). This does not exclude family members or spouses as aggressors. Residential care homes also have cases of elder abuse, even though the staff they hire are trained to perform caregiving duties.

Physical abuse is defined as an intentional use of force by an aggressor that results in injury,  impairment, or pain for the submissive victim. Physical abuse includes hitting, kicking, and shoving. Additionally, use of restraints, confinement, and drug use are also considered aspects of physical abuse.

Emotional or Mental Abuse is defined as actions that cause emotional distress. Emotional abuse can be caused verbally or by physical cueing. Forms include intimidation, threatening, yelling, humiliation, ridicule, blaming, isolation, menacing, or flat out ignoring the elderly patients concerns, or requests. In many ways emotional abuse is a form of bullying, especially when it blurs with physical abuse.

Sexual abuse is defined as forceful contact of a sexual nature with an elderly patient and without their consent. Sexual abuse forms include physical sexual acts, forceful undress, and the unwanted viewing of pornographic material.

Elder neglect is defined as the failure to adequately provide necessary care to an elderly charge. Abandonment is considered a form of elder neglect. This type of elder abuse is unlike other types as it can be either intentionally or unintentionally performed by the caregiver. Ignorance and denial are two feelings that prohibit some caregivers from providing adequate care. Family members who give up their lives to provide care may also have no knowledge of the proper way to do so or how to handle certain situation.  This type of elder abuse is the most reported, accounting for over 50% of all reported elder abuse cases.

Theft or financial exploitation is defined as the unauthorized use or procurement of an elder’s funds or property. This includes stealing money, checks, and items from the home. Other forms of elder theft include signature forging, identity theft, and misuse of the elder client’s checking and savings account, or credit cards. This type of abuse is not always performed by caregivers. The elderly are highly susceptible to scams including those that offer prizes or claim benefit to a needy group. Investment fraud, charity solicitations by phone, and prize announcements are just a few ways that scam artists take advantage of the elderly.

The healthcare industry is not exempt from elder abuse. However, with healthcare abuse the harmful actions are carried out by trusted professionals including doctors and nurses. These actions can also be performed by hospital personnel and support staff. Types of healthcare industry abuse includes charging for never-rendered services, overcharging, double billing, drug prescription kick-backs, over- and under-medicating, and Medicaid or insurance fraud. All of these forms of healthcare elder abuse negatively impact the well-being and care of the elderly patient, not to mention any financial damage they may incur.