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Elder Abuse: Frequently Asked Questions

What is elder abuse?
What are the warning signs of elder abuse?
What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse?
Who are the abusers of older adults?
Are there criminal penalties for the abusers?
How many people are suffering from elder abuse?
How does a person make an elder abuse report?
How can elder abuse be prevented?


What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment. Perpetrators include children, other family members, and spouses – as well as staff at nursing homes and assisted living and other facilities.

  • Physical abuse means inflicting physical pain or injury upon an older adult.
  • Sexual abuse means touching, fondling, intercourse or any other sexual activity with an older adult, when the older adult is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened or physically forced.
  • Emotional abuse means verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment or intimidation.
  • Confinement means restraining or isolating an older adult, other than for medical reasons.
  • Passive neglect is a caregiver’s failure to provide an older adult with life’s necessities, including, but not limited to, food, clothing, shelter or medical care.
  • Willful deprivation means denying an older adult medication, medical care, shelter, food, a therapeutic device or other physical assistance, and exposing that person to the risk of physical, mental or emotional harm — except when the older, competent adult has expressed a desire to go without such care.
  • Financial exploitation means the misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources by another.

What are the warning signs of elder abuse?

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control by individuals are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and older adult are also signs of emotional abuse. top >>

What makes an older adult vulnerable to abuse?

Social isolation and mental impairment (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease) are two factors that may make an older adult more vulnerable to abuse. But, in some situations, studies show that living with someone else (a caregiver or a friend) may increase the chances for abuse to occur. A history of domestic violence may also make an older adult more susceptible to abuse. top >>

Who are the abusers of older adults?

Abusers of older adults are both women and men. Family members are more often the abusers than any other group. Data show that adult children were the most common abusers. top >>

Are there criminal penalties for the abusers?

Most states have penalties for those who victimize older adults. Increasingly, across the country, law enforcement officers and prosecutors are trained on elder abuse and ways to use criminal and civil laws to bring abusers to justice. top >>

How many people are suffering from elder abuse?

While it’s estimated that as many as 5 million may suffer some form of elder abuse, it’s difficult to say how many older Americans are abused, neglected or exploited, in large part because surveillance is limited and the problem remains greatly hidden. top >>

How does a person make an elder abuse report?

Anyone who suspects that an older adult is being mistreated should contact an adult protective services office; you can find those offices listed at http://www.apsnetwork.org or through the National Center on Elder Abuse at http://www.ncea.aoa.gov or by calling 800.677.1116. top >>

How can elder abuse be prevented?

Educating seniors, professionals, caregivers and the public on abuse is critical to prevention. On an individual level keeping safe includes:

  • Take care of your health.
  • Seek professional help for drug, alcohol and depression concerns, and urge family members to get help for these problems.
  • Attend support groups for spouses and learn about domestic violence services.
  • Plan for your own future. With a power of attorney or a living will, health care decisions can be addressed to avoid confusion and family problems in advance. Seek independent advice from someone you trust before signing any documents.
  • Stay active in the community and connected with friends and family. This will decrease social isolation, which has been connected to elder abuse.
  • Post and open your own mail.
  • Don’t give personal information over the phone.
  • Use direct deposit for all checks.
  • Have your own phone.
  • Review your will periodically.
  • Know your rights. If you engage the services of a paid or family caregiver, you have the right to voice your preferences and concerns. If you live in a nursing home, call your Long Term Care Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is your advocate and has the power to intervene. top >>
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