June 15, 2015 was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, when communities, municipalities and organizations of various kinds joined in promoting activities and programs that spread awareness about neglect, exploitation and abuse later in life. However, as a provider of in-home assistance to elderly individuals, elder abuse is a subject we care about deeply the whole year round. In fact, we should all be concerned about this scourge to which many of our most vulnerable elderly fall victim.
At Ready Hands, we stand up against elder abuse. All employees receive education about elder abuse at the time of hire and periodic continuing education on the topic thereafter. We are legally required to provide mechanisms for the anonymous reporting of elder abuse, and we take that obligation seriously.
Although estimates vary, partly due to gross under-reporting, certainly millions of older adults in the U.S. experience some kind of elder abuse every year. This can take many different forms, including:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse and exploitation, thought to be the commonest kind
- Emotional or psychological abuse or neglect, including verbal abuse and threats
Who is at Risk? Elder abuse can happen to anyone—a neighbor, family member or even ourselves. It crosses all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. It can happen at home, in nursing homes, assisted living facilities or hospitals. According to available data, women and the “old old”—those over 80 years of age—are the most vulnerable. Mistreatment is often perpetrated by the victim’s own family. Risk factors also include:
- Mental health or substance abuse issues involving the victim or the perpetrator
- Social isolation
- Poor physical health
Elder Abuse Occurs Behind Closed Doors Like many kinds of domestic or inter-personal violence, elder abuse takes place behind closed doors. Statistics on its prevalence greatly underestimate the magnitude of the problem because most instances go under-reported. Victims may feel ashamed, especially if the abuser is a family member. They may worry that the abuser will get in trouble, or that they will be forced to move to a nursing home. They may feel guilty or somehow to blame. They may fear recrimination by the perpetrator. They may even fail to recognize that they are experiencing abuse. And, of course, many victims are simply not physically or mentally capable of speaking out.
What Can We All Do?
- If you suspect abuse, you should report it to your local adult protective services agency or law enforcement
- Help raise awareness by talking about the issue
- Keep in contact with and talk frequently with your older friends, neighbors and family members. Be aware and alert for the possibility of abuse
- Look around and observe
- Ask questions and listen
For more information on this important subject: http://www.acl.gov/newsroom/observances/WEAAD/index.aspx