Elder abuse is defined by the CDC as “an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult aged 60 or older. The abuse occurs at the hands of a caregiver or a person the elder trusts.”
It’s estimated that elder abuse is highest in nursing homes and long-term facilities. Globally, the number of cases of elder abuse is projected to increase; many countries have rapidly aging populations whose needs may not be fully met because of resource constraints.
It is predicted that by the year 2050, the global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double—from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion—with the vast majority of older people living in low- and middle-income countries.
If the proportion of elder abuse victims remains constant, the number of victims will increase rapidly because of population aging, growing to 320 million victims by 2050 (WHO, 2018d).
An elderly person can experience abuse;
- Physically: “When an elder experiences illness, pain, injury, functional impairment, distress, or death as a result of the intentional use of physical force and includes acts such as hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, and burning.”
- Sexually: “Forced or unwanted sexual interaction of any kind with an older adult. This may include unwanted sexual contact or penetration or non-contact acts such as sexual harassment.”
- Emotionally/Psychologically: “Verbal or nonverbal behaviors that inflict anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress on an older adult. Examples include humiliation or disrespect, verbal and non-verbal threats, harassment, and geographic or interpersonal isolation.”
- Negligence: “Failure to meet an older adult’s basic needs. These needs include food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care.”
Financially: “Illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an elder’s money, benefits, belongings, property, or assets for the benefit of someone other than the older adult.”
Major Risk Factors:
- Isolation: Social isolation of caregivers and older persons, and the ensuing lack of social support, is a significant risk factor for elder abuse by caregivers. Many elderly people are isolated because of loss of physical or mental capacity, or through the loss of friends and family members.
- Stereotypes: Ageist stereotypes in which older adults are depicted as frail, weak, and dependent.
- Erosion of the bonds between generations of a family.
- Systems of inheritance and land rights that affect the distribution of power and material goods within families.
- Migration of young couples, leaving older parents alone in societies where older people were traditionally cared for by their offspring
- Lack of funds to pay for care
- Policies that operate in the interests of the institution rather than the residents.
Strategies that can be taken to prevent elder abuse
- Public and professional awareness campaigns
- Screening (of potential victims and abusers)
- School-based intergenerational programs
- Caregiver support interventions (including stress management and respite care)
- Residential care policies to define and improve standards of care
- Caregiver training on dementia
- Mandatory reporting of abuse to authorities
- Self-help groups
- Safe houses and emergency shelters
- Psychological programs for abusers
- Helplines to provide information and referrals
- Caregiver support interventions