Often a hidden social issue that affects some of the most vulnerable members of society, elderly abuse can be devastating for the victims and their families.
In this blog, we will look into the following:
- Understanding elderly abuse
- Effective strategies to prevent elderly abuse
- The importance of safeguarding the well-being of older adults
What is elder abuse and its types?
Elder abuse is a complex and often under-recognized issue that can affect the health and rights of older adults worldwide. It involves intentional acts or neglect by a caregiver or another person in a relationship implying an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.
Physical abuse of older adults refers to the intentional infliction of pain or injury, such as:
Aside from the infliction of pain, it also includes the following:
- Inappropriate use of drugs and physical restraints
- Physical punishment
Sexual abuse involves forcing an older adult to take part in any sexual activity without consent, which can include non-contact acts such as forcing them to watch pornography or other degrading acts that exploit the elder sexually.
Emotional or psychological abuse
This type of abuse includes actions and words that cause emotional pain or distress.
Other acts that also fall into this category include:
- Verbal assaults
It also involves treating an older person like an infant or isolating them from their family, friends or regular activities.
This refers to the failure to fulfill a caretaking obligation, which constitutes more than half of all reported cases of elder abuse. It can be intentional or unintentional, based on factors like ignorance or denial that an older adult needs as much care as they do.
Financial abuse involves the illegal or improper exploitation or use of an elder’s funds, property or assets.
- Cashing checks without permission
- Forging an older person’s signature
- Coercing or deceiving an older person into signing any document, like a will or power of attorney
How big is the problem?
Estimates suggest that one in six older adults has been subjected to some form of abuse in the past year alone. Its extent is often underestimated due to underreporting, with only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever coming to the attention of authorities.
Worse, the issue is compounded by a rapidly aging population.
Elder abuse can lead to worse situations, such as:
- Severe physical injuries
- Long-term psychological consequences
- Premature death
Elder abuse risk factors
There are different risk factors associated with elder abuse, and they can be found both in the individuals who perpetrate abuse and within the environments where elders reside.
Caregiver risk factors
Factors that increase the risk of a caregiver perpetrating abuse include:
- Substance abuse
- Mental or physical illness
- Lack of support or respite care
- Financial pressures
- History of family violence
Institutional risk factors
In institutional settings such as nursing homes or long-term care facilities, elder abuse risk factors include:
- Insufficient staffing
- Lack of training for caregivers
- Inadequate management oversight
Also, environments, like the following, are conducive to abuse:
- Not elder-friendly spaces
- Poor policies in place
- No standard procedures to protect residents
How to help prevent elder abuse
Prevention strategies for elder abuse require a coordinated approach, involving the individual, community and societal levels. Empowering seniors through technology can also help them protect themselves.
1. Preventing elder abuse at home
Using the following can help seniors stay safe at home:
- Personal emergency response systems
- Home security systems
- Automated medication dispensers
Encourage them to use their phones and apps to reach out for help when needed and stay connected with family, friends and support services.
2. Keeping elders engaged in their communities
Engagement in the community has been shown to be a protective factor against elder abuse. Technology can facilitate this by helping them maintain their social networks and reduce isolation.
Specifically, this includes:
- Participating in virtual community groups
- Accessing online learning
- Attending telehealth appointments
3. Supporting primary caregivers
As the caregiver comes close to burnout, the risk factor for elder abuse increases. Provide support to caregivers through the following:
- Respite care services
- Online support groups
- Giving resources for stress management
4. Keeping elders active
Promoting physical activity is key to maintaining health and independence among older adults. Wearable fitness trackers and online exercise programs tailored for seniors can encourage and motivate them to stay active, which reduces their vulnerability to abuse.
5. Protecting elders from high-risk caregivers
Background check services and caregiver registries accessible online can help you and your family verify that the caregivers you’re hiring for your elderly loved ones are trustworthy and have no history of abusive behavior.
6. Considering financial abuse
Technologies like online banking and money management apps can help older adults maintain control over their finances and monitor for unusual activity. Financial literacy programs available online can also educate elders about scams and financial exploitation.
7. Finding community resources
Many communities offer online resources to prevent elder abuse. To protect your loved ones, check out for information about the following:
- Legal assistance
- Adult protective services
- Local elder care resources
8. Preventing elder abuse in nursing homes
When choosing a nursing home for your elderly loved one, check reviews and ratings of facilities online. Use apps that track health and well-being, and installing cameras (where allowed) to monitor care.
Protect your loved ones from elder abuse
Preventing elderly abuse requires vigilance, education and the proactive use of available tools and technology. Educate yourself and your loved ones on how to prevent elderly abuse, understand the causes of elderly abuse, and recognize the signs of abuse of older adults.
By doing so, you can create a safer environment for the elderly and contribute to a society that values and protects its older members.