Summer 2022 Newsletter
By Matthew Harmon, MSN, RN, CNE
School of Nursing
Arkansas State University
Older adults (over the age of 65) are commonly a target of abuse. In fact, one in six older adults are affected by some type of elder abuse. When one thinks of abuse, one may think of physical violence. In fact, the National Center on Elder Abuse notes seven different types including; physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial/material exploitation, neglect, abandonment, and self-neglect.
Physical abuse encompasses bodily injury, impairment, or physical pain caused by physical force (NCEA, 2022). Noticing multiple bruises in different stages of healing is an important sign of abuse because it indicates separate instances of trauma at different times. Other worrisome signs would be bruises, black eyes, welts, broken bones, sudden change in behavior, broken eyeglasses, and broken hearing aids. It is not uncommon for an older adult to experience a couple of these signs after an accidental event like a fall. However, it would be more suggestive of abuse if several of these signs were noticed at different times, as it suggests recurring incidents related to abuse.
Sexual abuse is sexual contact of any kind that is not-consensual (NCEA, 2022). Signs of sexual abuse in older adults include the report of sexual abuse from the individual, or sudden change in emotional status (NCEA, 2022). This type of abuse is harder to notice for some due to the lack of observable symptoms in the abused.
Emotional abuse or psychological abuse is defined as the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts (NCEA, 2022). This type of abuse consists of signs that are more behavioral-based. Signs that may suggest emotional abuse include irritability, isolating oneself, sudden change in emotional status, or report of emotional abuse.
Financial/material exploitation refers to the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets (NCEA, 2022). This type of abuse may also be difficult to identify in other individuals. The main identifiers of this type of abuse would be sudden change in financial status, addition of names to bank cards and credit cards, and abrupt changes to will or other financial documents. According to Dominguez et al. (2022), recognizing this type of abuse should show special consideration to those who may live alone or who already have a degree of isolation.
Neglect is defined as the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elder(NCEA, 2022). Being so, this type of abuse is found in individuals who require aid/caregiver for some aspect of their care. This can be an individual who is being taken care of by family, or even those being cared for in a facility. Signs of neglect include unsafe living arrangements, dehydration, starvation, poor hygiene, bed sores, among any other sign of abuse mentioned above.
Self-neglect characterized as the behavior of an elderly person that threatens his/her own health or safety(NCEA, 2022). The signs of this type of abuse mimic that of neglect as mentioned previously. The main difference of self-neglect to the other types of abuse is that this type of abuse has no identified abuser. Self-neglect is also different from neglect in that an individual who is a victim of neglect typically requires some type of supervision with their care while those who exhibit self-neglect do not.
Abandonment is the desertion of an elderly person by an individual who has assumed responsibility for providing care for an elder, or by a person with physical custody of an elder (NCEA, 2022). Abandonment may include the individual being abandoned at their home, or being abandoned at a medical facility. In some cases individuals may be abandoned at a public facility such as a supermarket, restaurant, or recreational area (NCEA, 2022).
If you or any older adults you know shows signs of elder abuse, several resources are available to help. First and foremost, if the matter is life-threatening, call 911 for immediate assistance. If the suspected abuse is occurring within a facility that the abused is housed at, contact administration of that facility. If you feel uncomfortable doing so, and wish to remain anonymous, you may call the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Office of Long-Term care at 1-800-582-4887 for residents in long-term care facilities. Victims of abuse are not always individuals in long-term care facilities, so if the person is not in a long-term care facility, and you suspect abuse call the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Adult Protective Services at 1-800-482-8049.
Fraga Dominguez, S., Ozguler, B., Storey, J. E., & Rogers, M. (2022). Elder abuse vulnerability and risk factors: Is financial abuse different from other subtypes? Journal of Applied Gerontology, 41(4), 928-939. https://doi.org/10.1177/07334648211036402
National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Types of abuse. NCEA. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://ncea.acl.gov/Suspect-Abuse/Abuse-Types.aspx