Shedding Light on the Most Common Types of Elder Abuse
09 June 2023
Elder abuse is a distressing and often overlooked issue that can severely impact the mental and physical well-being of vulnerable seniors. Currently 1 in 60 people over the age of 60 face abuse.
Celebrated on 15th June, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day promotes awareness and highlights the most common types of elder abuse.
Uncovering the Scope and Impact of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is rampant and needs to be addressed immediately, because:
- Elder abuse persists in developing and developed countries. It is particularly high in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and other institutions.
- 2 out of 3 caretakers of the elderly and nursing home staff have confessed to committing abuse
- It can have a long-term psychological impact and lead to grievous physical injuries
- With the elderly population gradually outnumbering the youth, there may be an impending healthcare crisis, particularly with a geriatrician shortage
- Only one in 24 elder abuse cases are reported
Given that 1 in 10 elders have experienced some form of abuse in America itself, the importance of understanding and addressing the issue cannot be overstressed.
Physical Abuse: Recognizing and Addressing the Signs
Physical elder abuse refers to any form of physical violence that can harm or injure an elderly individual. These can require long recovery periods, as elderly individuals are more susceptible to weakness and long-term health problems.
Sometimes physical abuse may also be fatal.
While it may be difficult to recognize physical abuse, some typical signs include:
- Broken bones
- Dislocated joints
- Loss of hair
- Missing teeth
- Bruises, particularly around the arms
- Excessive weight loss
In some instances, physical abuse may manifest in emotional signs such as a failure to explain how an injury has occurred, a strained relationship with the caregiver, withdrawal from social activities an elder may otherwise enjoy.
Delay in medical care or a past history of repeated hospitalizations for similar injuries may also point to physical abuse.
If any signs of physical elder abuse are present, caregivers or first responders must immediately report the problem to the authorities.
A medical checkup to ascertain asymptomatic injuries from abuse may also be required.
Emotional Abuse: Protecting the Mental Health of Older Adults
Emotional or psychological abuse is the mistreatment of an individual. This typically involves verbal abuse like insults, threats, or wilful ignorance. Keeping the elderly from seeing their other relatives, friends, or family members may also be a form of emotional abuse.
Generally, emotional abuse works by making an individual feel bad about themselves, making them feel like they are a burden, or not worthy of love, or other negative sentiments. It can ruin their confidence and may diminish their will to live.
Such abuse can scar a person and impact their mental health. In elderly individuals, mental health is especially important as very often bad mental health may manifest physically, and cause other problems.
Low self-esteem, depression, PTSD, social isolation, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, and loneliness are just some of the consequences of emotional abuse.
Therapy may help cope with and overcome emotional mistreatment. However, this requires people close to an elderly individual to be observant.
If an elderly individual appears more withdrawn than usual, shows signs of self-harm, seems afraid of their caregiver, or has other signs of neglect, it may be due to emotional abuse.
Financial Abuse: Safeguarding the Finances of Elderly Individuals
Elder financial abuse typically involves the unauthorized, illegal, or improper use of an individual’s finances. This can include access to their bank account to remove funds, purchasing things with their money, accessing or using their property or belongings without permission, or even wrongfully taking ownership of their belongings.
Some signs of financial abuse include:
- A recurring pattern of belongings or property going missing or being transferred to another individual
- An elderly person who is unaware or not in control of their own financial situation
- Changes to an individual’s power of attorney
- Bank account statements or changes that seem suspicious
- Withdrawals that don’t seem to be made by the individual
- Expenses that don’t add up or seem like they have been used for the individual’s benefit
In such cases, it’s best to get the legal authorities involved on an urgent basis.
Neglect and Self-Neglect
Neglect may be difficult to classify as explicit abuse but it qualifies as a form of elder abuse. It refers to a caregiver’s intentional act of not meeting the senior’s needs.
This may include withholding food, medications, and access to healthcare, or neglecting their emotional, physical, and social needs. This is particularly true if the elderly individual is completely dependent on the caregiver.
Acts of self-neglect may include not bathing, eating, consuming medication on time, etc. It can result from emotional abuse.
Enhancing Elder Abuse Response by Reporting Abuse and Offering Support
Seniors need to have a support system and community to fall back on during emergencies. If their own family does not live close by or is unable to provide the care required, their support system can come to their rescue.
It is equally important for authorities to treat elder abuse with urgency and care.
Even organizations that provide emergency response and support can provide rehabilitation.
Building awareness about elder abuse is also important to ensure that as a society, we can collectively respond to and support seniors experiencing abuse.
How Medical Associations Come Into Play
Often the most common types of elder abuse involve deterioration of mental and physical health.
Healthcare providers can observe signs of abuse better than other individuals while medical facilities can provide treatment and rehabilitation.
The Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) attempts to provide a safe and secure medical support for seniors. We are focused on improving mental health support systems and medical aid with our free clinics.
Get in touch with us if you or someone you know is undergoing abuse. You can also contact the National Adult Protective Services Association, the National Center on Elder Abuse, or your local authorities.