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What is Elder Abuse?

By J.Gunsch
Updated May 17, 2024
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Elder abuse is a tragic phenomenon in which members of the older population are physically or emotionally abused and/or financially exploited. Abuse includes any form of neglect, abandonment, sexual abuse or any other situation that causes harm to an individual. Statistics show that elder abuse is committed most often by family members. However, it is also prevalent in nursing homes, adult day cares and hospitals. It is estimated that over five million Americans have suffered from elder abuse.

Like children, the elderly are often very vulnerable. Medical conditions that render sufferers incapable of fully caring for themselves, and impaired decision making and communication, place seniors at risk for elder abuse. Dementia, for example, can be frustrating to caregivers, causing them to lash out and inflict harm on the elderly. A history of domestic abuse can also worsen as the victim ages and becomes more defenseless.

There are many reasons why domestic elder abuse happens. A caregiver's emotional state can have a big impact on the quality of care that they are able to provide. Impatience, resentment, depression or an aggressive personality can exacerbate the tremendous stress that caring for another creates. A lack of knowledge of proper health care or general ignorance can also be a source of neglect or abandonment, and hence a contributing factor in elder abuse.

In professional institutions, the same factors that contribute to domestic elder abuse can exist. In addition, poor management issues such as overcrowding and unqualified staff can contribute to the abuse of the elderly. The compromised heath and mental faculties of an older person can hinder the likelihood that elder abuse will be reported by the victim. Some abusers take advantage of this condition, assuming that they will not be caught.

Signs of elder abuse may or may not be obvious. Most obvious, in the case of physical abuse, is the appearance of unexplained bruising, bed sores, a lack of basic hygiene or any injury or ailment that can not be medically explained. Exploitation is often marked by a sudden decrease in financial security. The less obvious signs of elder abuse may be depression, isolation or an increase in disagreements and belittling by caregivers.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Mar 18, 2014

@bluedolphin-- That's true. Even if an elder is cared for at home, if he or she has a health problem that makes care difficult, then professional help should be sought. There are trained nurses and caretakers who can work at individual homes.

By bluedolphin — On Mar 17, 2014

@discographer-- I agree with you but elder abuse does not only occur in institutions. Some people care for the elderly at home and so abuse at home can occur too. And it can be an elder's own child or sibling abusing them.

Caring for others is a tough task and not everyone can handle it. I think that abuse occurs because people who are not cut out for the task are forced to do it. Care-taking requires a lot of patience, empathy and devotion. Unfortunately, most people do not have enough of these values to care for an elder.

By discographer — On Mar 17, 2014

The elderly are really no different from children when it comes to abuse. They are just as vulnerable as the article said and often suffer from mental and physical illnesses that prevent them from defending themselves. What's more sad is that many children and relatives leave the elderly in care homes and rarely check up on them. I know people who only visit their parents and grandparents in nursing homes from holiday to holiday.

I realize that caring for the elderly is difficult and sometimes it is necessary to submit them to a nursing home. However, this does not mean that they should be left alone there. Children need to check up on their family members in nursing homes frequently to make sure that everything is okay. They have to be careful and check for any injuries, missing belongings or general change in the psychology of the parent. These are all signs that the parent is being abused.

Regardless of what condition they are in or how old they are, everyone deserves to be treated with respect and to live with dignity. We have to keep in mind that one day we are also going to be in the same situation.

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