August 16, 2017

Elder Abuse Still Prevalent

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By Regina V. Gibson, PhD, MALS, RN, CHES

AGEC/GWEP Program Coordinator

Elder abuse is any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person; it is an important public health problem. A 2017 study based on the best available evidence from 52 studies in 28 countries from diverse regions, including twelve low- and middle-income countries, estimated that, over the past year, 15.7% of people 60 years and older were subjected to some form of abuse. This is likely to be an underestimation, as only one in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported, in part because people are often afraid to report cases of abuse to family, friends, or to the authorities (Elder Abuse Fact Sheet, 2017)

As more people are living longer, the issue of elder abuse is now getting the attention of law enforcement, and medical and research communities. In the United States, the 2010 Census recorded the greatest number and proportion of people age 65 and older in all of decennial census history: 40.3 million, or 13% of the total population and this “Boomer Generation” effect will continue for decades (Research: Statistics/Data) .The aging population will require more care and protection than is currently available or possible (Elder Abuse, 2017) and will also be more susceptible to various forms of abuse (physical, financial, emotional, psychological, neglect, fraud, and scams) (Nina Plonka, 2013).

Old age can be described as both a family and a societal burden. Some older adults age gracefully and remain independent, living in their own homes well into their 90s. These older adults are able to manage their affairs and are not hindered by debilitating diseases or severe cognitive issues. However, many older adults often find themselves having to live with a relative when they are no longer able to take care of themselves due to decreasing mental capability as seen in those with dementia, or chronic debilitating diseases. Additionally, it may be necessary for some older adults to be placed in long term care facilities. Sadly there are also older adults without family support who live alone. These are the people who are more susceptible to loneliness, isolation, depression, and/or self-neglect, the latter of which is a form of abuse. Neglect, the failure of caregivers to fulfill their responsibility to provide needed care, may be an issue. Perpetrators may be paid attendants, family members, employees of long term care facilities or others.

When speaking of elder abuse, there are older adults who are particularly vulnerable because of memory impairments, communication abilities, and loss of judgment.

Many people with dementia are unable, frightened, or embarrassed to report abuse. As dementia progresses, so does the risk of all types of abuse. Abuse among this population is a hidden offence, perpetrated by people on whom they depend (Research: Statistics/Data).

Unless mandated reporters do what they are obligated to do, many cases of abuse go unreported.  There is a long list of mandated reporters listed in the 2010 Arkansas Code § 12-18-402 (2010 Arkansas Code). The bottom line, however, is that anyone who suspects that an older adult is being abused, has an obligation to report it.

It is understandable that caring for impaired family members, especially those with dementia is stressful, but these stresses should never be an excuse for elder abuse or neglect. Thankfully there are resources available for caregivers to work through the stress of caring for a loved one. Locally, in Arkansas, AARP offers an excellent comprehensive Caregiver Resource Guide. (Resources).  Other resources for caregivers include Adult Protective Services, Arkansas Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Aging and Adult Services, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, and Alzheimer’s Arkansas, just to name a few (Arkansas Caregiver Resource Guide, 2017).

This article in no way completely describes all of the types of abuse that may be inflicted on older adults, but it is intended to raise awareness that elder abuse continues to be a problem that must be continually addressed.



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