Elders: Easy Targets

Elder Abuse

As attention grows in print and on news outlets, communities gather to get the message out about this horrendous epidemic. Elder Abuse is categorized into seven different subsets: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, confinement, passive neglect, willful deprivation, and financial exploitation. According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 10 individuals over age 60 experience some form of abuse or exploitation, and ONLY 1 in 14 cases are ever reported. The statistics are shocking and are readily available on many elder-focused websites, including, CDC.gov and NCOA.org.

Who Are the Abusers?

Family members make up 60% of perpetrators. Inside of that 60%, two-thirds are adult children or their spouses. On occasion, the News headlines stories of elder abuse inside nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or even in the elder’s own home at the hands of paid caregivers. The stories that make it to the media are often “Breaking News” and are extreme. In the shadows, there are less dramatic, insidious, and chronic abuses happening everywhere, every single day.

Risk Factors

If an elder has a cognitive impairment, “dysfunction in the normal thought process,” whether it be from Dementia, stroke, or a chronic illness such as Parkinson’s Disease, their vulnerability is heightened and weakens their ability to self-protect. Have you ever received unwanted telephone solicitation? You can be sure that your loved ones have. An elder with hearing loss may only hear part of what the caller is asking and may not recognize that these calls aren’t legitimate. In an instant, they become worried that, indeed, their electricity will be shut off unless they give the caller their credit card number, social security number, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name. In one short call: identity theft has occurred.

While financial exploitation dominates elder abuse in frequency by a considerable margin, we need to consider the other areas of vulnerability. A leading cause of unintended elder abuse is exhaustion of family caregivers. Elders can have many ongoing needs, all of which seem urgent to them as they have a smaller plate of responsibility. Their children, particularly those in the “sandwich generation,” are juggling the demands of their jobs, children, own households, and maybe their own medical concerns or limitations. Add into this mix, a needy elder with multiple medical issues, appointments, household, and personal care needs, and you have one very overextended and stressed caregiver.

Often, these family caregivers are ashamed of their lack of patience, feel guilty about not spending enough time with their elder loved one, and don’t reach out for support. When this becomes a chronic scenario, and another stress enters the mix, such as loss of a job, divorce, or sickness of a child, neglect creeps in, or worse. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

How Do We Help Elders in Need?

The buzz phrase, “see something, say something” are words to live by. But WHAT are we saying, and to WHOM? If you suspect an elder or family you know of is struggling, the caregiver is struggling, and the elder’s needs are not being met, start where we always do: take an inventory. Write down your observations and concerns. Specifics are important.

If you are comfortable addressing the elder or caregiver, you can start there. Offering a helping hand, yourself, or directing the family caregivers to local resources can be a non-threatening way to raise the issue. In a small community or neighborhood, local churches, temples, houses of worship, and Veterans’ organizations may have gentle outreach services available.

Don’t forget our outstanding local Elder Resource Agencies. Reach out to your local Council on Aging, or SeniorCare, Inc. in Beverly and Gloucester at 978-281-1750. If you want to gather information, speak confidentially about your concerns and they can direct you to where real help is available.

If you have offered help and have been met with hostility, and have gathered enough inventory to substantiate genuine concern, you can call the 24/7 Elder Abuse Hotline at 800-922-2275. Your report remains confidential and can be acted on quickly if an imminent danger to the elder is suspected. No one likes to make this kind of report, but at times there is no other option. We feel as if we are “butting into someone else’s business,” and in truth, sometimes that is the case. Wouldn’t we rather take that initiative, and go out of our comfort zone, rather than say, “I wish I had done something” after a tragedy occurs.

As our loved ones’ age, an inevitable role reversal takes place. The very ones who raised us, and taught us about managing a household, a checkbook, finding our way in the world, are now losing those skills and needing help. Often, the children and extended family become the helpers. It can be difficult to navigate this process, while not wanting to highlight the elder’s need, retaining their sense of pride, relevance, adulthood, and role in the family. If you know someone or find your own family in this situation, use the local resources at your fingertips. Your local Council on Aging, SeniorCare, Inc., and Aberdeen Home Care are here for you. No need to “go it alone.” We are skilled professionals and are all here to help.

Written by Joanne MacInnis, RN and Certified Dementia Practitioner.

Originally published in the Manchester Cricket Newspaper, June 2018. 

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