Have any types of elder abuse ever affected you or anyone you know? Have you ever suspected that you or a vulnerable elder in your life might be suffering from neglect or mistreatment? Do you feel conflicted, afraid, embarrassed, or unsure of what to do about it?
Each day, millions of older people around the world are negatively impacted by elder abuse. It's an ugly problem that needs to be better understood and taken more seriously by everyone, in every community. Nobody deserves to be neglected, exploited, or abused.
Unfortunately, the warning signs of abuse are often missed, ignored, or rationalised away— even by well-meaning people. In fact, it's likely that most cases of elder mistreatment go unreported, which means that Protective Services, law enforcement agencies, and other relevant authorities often don't get the chance to intervene on behalf of seniors who need help.
As a result, countless older adults experience a poorer quality of life and worse health outcomes than they otherwise would.
By learning more about this subject, you can better protect yourself or those you care about. People like you can be lights who shine hope in the darkness and help create positive change.
Elder abuse is any action or inaction that harms, endangers, or causes distress to a person over the age of 60 or 65 and is done intentionally by someone who is known to the victim and in a position of trust.
Elder abuse can take several different forms. And some seniors experience multiple kinds of abuse at the same time. There are 7 types of elder abuse that are among the most commonly reported:
Financial Abuse — Financial exploitation of an elderly person is any intentional act in which a perpetrator improperly reaps financial benefits at the expense of a victim's livelihood or well-being. Perpetrators may use scare tactics or make wildly overstated claims in order to get seniors to give them money or hand over control of their assets. Many scams involve telemarketing, but most financial abuse is carried out by people that seniors already know and trust, such as family members and service professionals.
Neglect —This type of abuse happens when a vulnerable elder is deprived of essential necessities like food, water, medical treatment, proper clothing, or a safe, clean, and comfortable living environment.
Emotional abuse — Also known as psychological abuse, this kind of mistreatment harms an elder's mental health. Perpetrators may ridicule, humiliate, blame, yell at, or threaten their victims. Or they may employ more passive-aggressive tactics like shunning their victims, holding back affection, or remaining silent and disinterested in the face of pleas for help or attempts at reconciliation.
Physical abuse — Physical abuse can take many forms: Pushing, slapping, punching, choking, kicking, pulling hair, and burning are just a few examples. It can also take the form of a perpetrator inappropriately restraining or imprisoning a victim.
Sexual abuse — Being forced to participate in activities of a sexual nature without consent is sexual abuse. Even a conversation about sex can be considered abusive if an elder is uncomfortable or unwilling to engage in the discussion and can't get out of the situation. Sexual abuse also happens to seniors who aren't capable of giving consent, such as those who have dementia or other conditions that make them mentally or physically incapacitated.
Abandonment — Perpetrators will intentionally desert vulnerable elders who depend on their care, leaving them with little or no assistance— often for long stretches of time. Abandonment can greatly erode an elder's health and wellbeing; it can even lead to premature death.
Rights abuse —Some seniors are denied their basic legal rights. This can also involve being denied proper health care, social activities, privacy, or access to one's money or possessions.
What do I do if I suspect elder abuse?
Trust what you're seeing or feeling. Elder abuse can sometimes be subjective, but it's usually better to err on the side of caution. That's even true for potential elderly neglect by family members. Your emotions may be conflicted, but choose to do what's necessary in order to protect yourself or the senior in your life who you suspect is being mistreated. Don't stay silent.
If there is an immediate danger to life, limb, or property, call 000 right away. In Australia we are lucky to have the Seniors Rights Service. They have branches all over the country and they assist older people experiencing elder abuse by providing free and confidential legal advice as well as information on recognising signs of abuse and where to report it.