By: Anna Smiley
Growing older can mean declining cognition, physical struggles, and an increased dependency on others for care. This increased dependence puts elders at risk for abuse, which could come in the form of exploiting finances, physical abuse, emotional and verbal mistreatment, neglect, and abandonment (Elder Abuse, 2008). Elder abuse is associated with high levels of psychological distress such as depression and physical indicators such as hospitalizations and mortality. Risk factors for experiencing abuse include multiple health problems, lower functioning, an age below 90 years, aggressive behavior, and a smaller social network size (Brijoux et al., 2021). Abuse can harm an elder’s identity and autonomy. “Given the growing speed of population aging and the severity of [elder abuse], understanding the magnitude of [elder abuse] is a crucial first step to develop effective preventive measures against this type of violence” (Wang et al., 2021).
In a literature review covering three East Asian countries (China, Japan, South Korea), overall incidents of elder abuse were lower than the global levels. Compared to the global level listed above, the authors found that three East Asian countries had elder abuse incidence rates of 78.33 out of 1,000 (Wang et al., 2021). The authors noted that this fact can be attributed to the cultural norms of respecting one’s elders and filial piety (which is defined as the “attitude of obedience, devotion, and care toward one’s parents and elder family members that is the basis of individual moral conduct and social harmony” (Guar, 2019)).
In the United States, 1 in every 18 elders are financially abused. This abuse could come in the form of telemarketers or cybercrimes, and is preventable with proper education geared towards the elders. Additionally, elders can network with each other to prevent scams and alert others about potential fraud (Schuessler, 2022).
In regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, a scoping review by Santos et al. (2021) stated “The WHO reports about a tenfold increase in abuse and neglect against older people during the pandemic” (Santos et al., 2021). While the studies reviewed didn’t detail the specific type of abuse, social isolation was deemed a risk factor for experience abuse, despite being necessary to stop the spread of the pandemic.
More than 54% of those above the age of 80 have experienced a form of elder abuse, typically psychological abuse, in a study from Germany. This abuse leads to much lower quality of life outcomes, including more depressive symptoms, more perceived loneliness, lower autonomy, and a lower life satisfaction. These outcomes are devastating for an individual, and can lead to a lower life satisfaction. The article briefly mentioned the risk factors for abusers, such as caregiver burden of care for those experiencing dementia, but did not expand specifically on the risk factors (Brijoux et al., 2021). An informational document by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging detailed that in their research, the leading causes of substantiated allegations for elder abuse included self-neglect, caregiver neglect, financial exploitation, and physical abuse. The document detailed the ways in which they worked with law enforcement and personal care organizations to provide care and protection for the elderly in Pennsylvania. The first step in protecting the eldery, according to the document, is to identify victimization and for mandatory reporting to take place (mandatory when mandated by law, such as healthcare workers or school employees) (Older Adults, 2018).
The CDC cautions that elder abuse is underreported because injuries are mainly found in emergency departments, where elders are admitted with nonfatal injuries. If there aren’t hospital level injuries, the abuse may not even be reported. The CDC also lists ways to prevent elder abuse, including the following:
- Listen to older adults and their caregivers to understand their challenges and provide support.
- Report abuse or suspected abuse to local adult protective services, long-term care ombudsman, or the police. Use the National Center on Elder Abuse Listing of State Elder Abuse Hotlines to find your state’s reporting numbers, government agencies, state laws, and other resources.
- Educate oneself and others about how to recognize and report elder abuse.
- Learn how the signs of elder abuse differ from the normal aging process.
- Check-in on older adults who may have few friends and family members.
- Provide over-burdened caregivers with support such as help from friends, family, or local relief care groups; adult day care programs; counseling; outlets intended to promote emotional well-being.
- Encourage and assist persons (either caregivers or older adults) having problems with drug or alcohol abuse in getting help.
Brijoux, T., Neise, M., & Zank, S. (2021). Elder abuse in the oldest old: prevalence, risk factors and consequences. Zeitschrift Für Gerontologie Und Geriatrie, 54(S2), 132–137. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00391-021-01945-0
CDC. (n.d.). Preventing Elder Abuse. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/fastfact.html
Elder Abuse. (2008). American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pi/prevent-violence/resources/elder-abuse
Older Adults Protective Services Annual Report. (2018). Pennsylvania Department of Aging. https://www.aging.pa.gov/publications/annual-reports/Documents/PS%20Annual%20Report%2017-18.pdf
Santos, A. M. R. D., Sá, G. G. D. M., Brito, A. A. O. D., Nolêto, J. D. S., & Oliveira, R. K. C. D. (2021). Violência contra o idoso durante a pandemia COVID-19: revisão de escopo. Acta Paulista de Enfermagem, 34. https://doi.org/10.37689/acta-ape/2021ar00336Schuessler, Z. (2022). Nurses’ Role in Identifying Elder Financial Abuse. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 53(1), 30–34. https://doi.org/10.3928/00220124-20211210-08