Sadly, the term elder abuse is real, and it pops up regularly in today’s society. What can we do about it?
Thankfully, we are seeing teachings about elder abuse rise to the forefront. This may help many of us to become better advocates.
The elderly are typically much more vulnerable (e.g., mentally, physically, and economically), compared to younger adults, and I believe that they are less likely to report the abuse of any type.
We teach young children to report abuse (i.e., tell your teacher), and we teach them to know the difference between right and wrong treatment (i.e., what abuse looks like), but I believe an entire segment of our population also needs this education – those that are 60+ years old.
The fact is, the more that we know about abuse – how to recognize the signs of abuse, what to do if we are abused, and what to do if we suspect or know that someone else is experiencing abuse, the better our chances are at diminishing the abundance of abuse in our world today.
The first step in healing is calling it what it is, A.B.U.S.E.!
I have been a victim of elder abuse (by definition). I had to work through it and I learned to call it what it is. Abuse of any type is never okay (Can I say that enough?). Acknowledging that we have been abused and calling it by its name is a big part of healing from it.
Read more at Healing from Narcissistic Abuse Part 1 and Part 2
I cannot imagine being an elderly person, much older than I am, and dealing with abuse either physically or emotionally. Trauma from abuse can lead to mental and physical challenges, and the older the victim is, the harder it is to overcome these issues.
what is elder abuse?
Abuse falls into many categories: mental/emotional/psychological, physical, financial, neglect, and more.
When people hear the term elder abuse, they often think of it as something that happens to a frail person, 80+ years old, living alone and isolated or in a nursing home, mentally and physically unable to fight off the abuser, and unable or afraid to articulate the abuse to others. While this is often the case, there is much more to it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes elder abuse as an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. An older adult is someone aged 60 or older. The abuse occurs at the hands of a caregiver or a person the elder trusts (e.g., a family member, caregiver, friend, etc.).
Common types of elder abuse (per the CDC) include:
- Physical abuse is 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.
- Sexual abuse involves 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.
- Emotional or Psychological Abuse refers to 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.
- Neglect is the failure to meet an older adult’s basic needs. These needs include food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care.
- Financial Abuse is the 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.
The National Council of Aging (NCOA) recognizes elder abuse as an issue for advocates. In Get the Facts on Elder Abuse the key takeaways are:
- Elder abuse is a silent problem that robs seniors of their dignity, security, and—in some cases—costs them their lives.
- Up to five million older Americans are abused every year, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion.
- NCOA is working to advance legislation that funds the Elder Justice Act and elder abuse protections of the Older Americans Act.
NCOA’s description of elder abuse closely matches that of the CDC, with a few exceptions and additions :
- Emotional abuse means verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, or intimidation.
- Confinement means restraining or isolating an older adult, other than for medical reasons.
- Willful deprivation means denying an older adult medication, medical care, shelter, food, a therapeutic device, or other physical assistance, and exposing that person to the risk of physical, mental, or emotional harm—except when the older, competent adult has expressed a desire to go without such care.
Please visit each of these pages (CDC and NOCA) to learn more about elder abuse:
- CDC Fast Facts (Elder Abuse)
- CDC Risk and Protective Factors
- CDC Prevention Strategies
- CDC Resources
- NCOA Get the Facts on Elder Abuse: The many types of elder abuse, physical signs of elder abuse, emotional/behavioral signs of elder abuse, financial signs, etc., and where you can learn more.
The Consequences of Elder Abuse
The ramification of elder abuse does not look much different than it does for any abuse victim, at any age. Abuse can have several physical and emotional effects on an older adult.
The emotional effects of elder abuse can include:
- Distrust and feeling wary of others
The physical effects of elder abuse can include:
- Minor injuries such as cuts, bruises, scratches, and welts
- Major injuries to the head, broken bones, continuous physical pain
Any injury caused by abuse, including emotional and psychological abuse, can lead to premature death and can make any existing health challenges worse.
how to prevent elder abuse
I feel compelled to agree with the CDC, that the goal of elder abuse prevention is to stop it from happening in the first place, but the solutions are as complex as the problem.
Much of the prevention process depends upon the person’s residence and living status (e.g., living at home, residing in a nursing home, healthy and strong, having health conditions, having cognitive difficulties, etc.). So, I advise people to learn as much as possible about prevention from the CDC, NCOA, as well as sites such as agingcare.com and centerforpreventionofabuse.org.
Forgiving a family member, close friend, etc., for abusing us is a personal decision.
I am a Christian, and I find it very easy to forgive. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean that we put ourselves in harm’s way. Forgiveness does not mean that we do not set boundaries. Forgiveness simply means that we remove hate, anger, and other soul-destroying feelings from our hearts and mind.
A part of setting boundaries is taking care of ourselves, and that includes being prepared ‘just in case’ we might be subjected to an abusive situation. I have learned that abusers can apologize profusely, and then they repeat their abusive actions and behavior.
I put together a ‘red letter contact list’ (phone numbers) to help me be prepared for any abusive or threatening situation:
- Two people that I will text a code to (if I am unable to call 911 or a local emergency number). These people are instructed to call the authorities for me, with no additional prompts from me.
- 911 or call the local county sheriff’s office phone number
- Local District Attorney’s office (for forms to complete a protective order)
- Local Elder Abuse 800 number
- Local Legal Aid phone number (protective order, restraining order, additional advice, etc.)
- Secure the locks and have additional physical safety devices on-hand (Stop them in their tracks!)
Many of us hesitate to report that we are abused by a loved one, but if we never take the first step to stop the abuse, it may continue.
The Enlightened Mindset provides some clear-cut advice about restraining orders, as well as the filing and court hearing process.
“Overall, getting a restraining order is an important step in protecting yourself from harm or harassment. It is important to understand the process and know what to expect. With the right approach, you can get a restraining order quickly and safely.”
Know that getting a restraining order is not limited to the abuser’s physical behavior. Depending upon your state law, you may be able to obtain a restraining order based on the form of emotional and psychological abuse. Womens.Law.org explains, “Certain emotionally abusive acts may, in fact, qualify you for an order. For example, if an abuser threatens you or continually texts or calls you repeatedly without reason to do so, this could be considered enough to grant an order…Some states also recognize emotionally abusive acts as crimes, such as threats or public disturbances, for example.”
Some online harassment, including doxing (or doxxing: publishing private information about the individual on the internet, with malicious intent), using electronic communication that causes fear of death or serious bodily injury, and even if the attempt is only to cause emotional distress (abuse!), can be punishable by law.
Learn more about this at The Reeves Law Group, Fact or Fiction: Doxing Someone Can Get You Arrested.
“Most victims of doxing should also look to their state law. Much of the conduct that is considered “doxing” may fall under multiple state laws relating to cyber-stalking, stalking, harassment, threats, or extortion (e.g., threatening to make information public if money is not paid). A doxer can also be charged if he illegally obtained the data about his victim, such as from protected government databases.”
Wrapping it Up
I hope your life is free from any abusive situations.
Have you experienced adult abuse? I welcome you to share your tips and thoughts in the comments.