Elder abuse can take a number of forms. Based on the number of complaints and arrest warrants involving senior abuse nationally, it seems that financial, physical and emotional abuse is on the rise. Research suggests that 1 in 10 Americans 60 and over have experienced some form of elder abuse – some estimates range as high as 5 million seniors are abused each year. But even as prosecutors around the country target elder abuse, many cases go unreported. One study estimated that only 1 out of 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities. Some older adults fear that if they complain, they will face retaliation such as being forced to go to a nursing home. Studies show that more than a third of people with dementia experience abuse at the hands of people providing care; those with dementia may not be able to report or even remember that they have been abused.
The following are some examples of Elder Abuse:
- Physical abuse means causing physical pain or injury to an older adult, such as hitting.
- Emotional abuse means verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, or intimidation.
- Sexual abuse means touching, intercourse, or any other sexual activity with an older adult, when the older adult is unable to understand and consent, or is done so in a threatening or forceful manner.
- Confinement means restraining or isolating an older adult, other than for medical reasons.
- Passive neglect is a caregiver’s failure to meet an older adult’s basic necessities, such as food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.
- Financial exploitation means the misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources by another.
Perpetrators are both male and female. They are often the children, spouses, other family members – in almost two thirds of reported elder abuse cases, perpetrators are adult children or spouses. In other cases it may be paid caregivers such as home health aides and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Family members provide the bulk of caregiving to older adults, enabling them to live independently at home where they want to be. Sometimes people need to engage with home health aides for assistance to make this possible. When it comes to paid home care workers across the nation, there are several reasons why elder abuse is prevalent in these arrangements. There are no no federal regulations covering home care agencies or workers, other than broad standards for care covered by Medicaid waiver programs. While most states require pre-employment background checks of workers, they are not required to check records in other states which leaves a large opportunity for oversight. Only 15 states require agencies to conduct periodic in-home evaluations to ensure workers are performing their jobs acceptably and provide an opportunity for the supervisor to observe potential signs of abuse.
Fortunately in Virginia the department of Health holds home care agencies to high standards. It is important to choose a licensed agency to work with so that you can be sure those standards are being enforced.
AARP is working on several angles with state legislatures to help families avoid unwittingly hiring an unqualified aide to help their older loved ones. These efforts include:
- Preserving and strengthening state adult protective services agencies
- Adopting legislation to help prevent, detect or report and address financial exploitation of older people
- Increasing criminal and civil penalties against perpetrators of financial exploitation or amend the definition of “elder abuse” to include financial exploitation
Most states do have penalties for perpetrators who abuse older adults, and training for law enforcement and prosecutors on elder abuse is becoming more widespread across the country.
If you suspect an older adult is being abused you should contact the Adult Protective Services office in your area, or if the adult is in immediate danger call 911. More information is available from the Eldercare Locator online or by calling 1-800-677-1116.
Sources: AARP, National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).
About the Author: Pam Reynolds, CMC is the President and co-owner of Allegiance Aging Care Services. Pam has spent almost fifteen years working in senior care including long term care facilities and home health care. Her higher education is in Social Work, and she has been credentialed as both a certified Geriatric Care Manager and Licensed Assisted Living Administrator. Read more about Pam and her team of Aging Care Professionals here.