Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fighting Elder Abuse Around the World

When I opened the weekly paper for my retirement village this morning, I was interested to see an article about World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  Until I read the article, I didn't know there was a special day set aside to bring this sad reality to our attention.  Unfortunately, there is no question that it is necessary.  The day has been recognized since June 15, 2006 and is intended to help social workers, police, adult protective service workers, nursing home staff, family members and others who come in contact with the elderly to be better educated and able to recognize the signs of elder abuse.  The program was launched by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations.  Obviously, this is a problem around the world, as Japan recently passed a law allowing elderly parents to sue their adult children if the children neglect or fail to visit them.

Statistics on Elder Abuse in the US

According to representatives from the Ageless Alliance of Orange County, California, one in ten senior citizens is abused.  This amounts to approximately five million people nationwide.  Studies by the National Center on Elder Abuse have found that between 7.6% and 10% of seniors who were part of a study were willing to admit that they had experienced abuse in the prior year.  Sadly, there are indications that many seniors are reluctant to report it, although Adult Protective Services does believe there is a trend towards better reporting.

Financial abuse alone was reported in one study by 41 out of 1000 seniors who were surveyed.

The problem may even be much more serious than these numbers indicate, since the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study discovered that for every one abused elderly person who comes to the attention of authorities, approximately twenty-four cases go unreported.

This seemed almost impossible for me to believe until I read about the different ways that seniors can be mistreated, often by the people they most trust.

Types of Elder Abuse

Seniors can be abused in a number of ways. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse website, it appears that more elderly women are abused than men and that the older a person is, the more likely that person is to be abused.  In approximately 90% of cases, family members, such as adult children or spouses, are most likely to be the abusers.  Researchers have also discovered that people with dementia are far more likely to be victims of elder abuse than those without.  Here are some common types of elder abuse:

Neglect:  This includes incidents in which either a paid caregiver or a member of the family fails to meet an elderly person's basic needs or protect them from harm.  This can happen whether the person is living in their own home or in a nursing home.  In fact, in one study done in the year 2000, 95% of nursing home residents said that either they had personally been neglected or they had seen another resident neglected.  Since so many of us may eventually need to spend our last few months or years in a skilled nursing facility, I found this statistic particularly alarming.

Emotional Abuse:  Emotional abuse can include berating, threatening or demeaning an elderly person.  Emotional abuse may cause significant psychological distress and lower self-esteem.

Physical Abuse:  Physical violence against the elderly can increase other health problems and bring on depression or anxiety.  The victims also have a 300% higher risk of death when they are compared to people who have not been physically abused.

Financial Abuse:  Many seniors are especially reluctant to let their family members know when they have been taken advantage of financially, because they don't want to appear to be incapable of handling their own money.  They are often afraid they will lose their financial and personal freedom if their children learn what happened to them.  As a result, they may be the victim of a scam and never say anything to anyone.  As I have reported before in this blog, I have known two different intelligent, well-educated people who were victimized by scammers pretending to be relatives and asking that money be wired to them.  Both of my friends were horrified that they could be so gullible.

Sexual Abuse: Believe it or not, even bed-ridden elderly women have been raped.  To make matters worse, they are often not believed when they report it, which allows the perpetrator freedom to continue to abuse that person or another elderly person in their care.

Examples of Elder Abuse

There are undoubtedly millions of examples of Elder Abuse that have occurred in this country.  One case which was reported in my local newspaper occurred when an 85 year old woman allowed her only son to come stay with her.  He was actively using drugs and alcohol, his wife had left him and he had lost his job.

Before long, her son was growing marijuana on the patio of her retirement condo and threatening that he would report her for being incompetent to handle her own finances so that he could be appointed her conservator.  She was terrified of her son and his threats, although she eventually turned to social services for help.

In another case, our local newspaper reported on the case of a 76 year old man who remarried.  Within four years, his wife had sold everything of value that he owned and left him with $100,000 in credit card debt.   This may not be an unusual situation, since the father of a friend of mine had a similar experience when he remarried late in life.  My friend eventually had to assist her father in filing for both divorce and bankruptcy.

As you can see, elder abuse is something we all need to know about.  It can happen in anyone's family.


National Center on Elder Abuse website:

You may also want to read:  The Ultimate Internet Safety Guide for Seniors

Another good option is:  "Elder Abuse Prevention Resource Guide"
"Village Recognizes World Elder Abuse Awareness Day" Laguna Woods Globe, Thursday, July 11, 2013.

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Photo of elderly woman courtesy of


  1. My parents are baby boomers and now they're starting to look into retirement homes in Surrey. Just give it a couple more years and it's going to get crazy!

  2. This is all so depressing but a very necessary topic. We should all keep our eyes and ears open for these possible abuses and help victims when we can.

  3. Thank you for shining some light on this horrible subject. We definitely need to spread awareness.


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