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Elder Abuse: What Is It, How to Recognize It, And How To Fight Against It

Elder abuse is on the rise. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some form of abuse.

Although common, elder abuse is chronically underreported - with only 1 in 6 cases being reported.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15. Launched by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization, this day is meant to raise awareness for and promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons.

What Is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is the mistreatment or harming of an older person. The types of abuse can vary from physical, emotional, or sexual, or financial. Financial exploitation and extortion is the most common.

Abuse can happen for many reasons, including a lack of support services, community resources, and/or ageism.

COVID-19 and Elder Abuse

Cases of elder abuse have skyrocketed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry blames this partly on a lack of social interaction. Without strong relationships or a sense of community, human beings are less likely to have a sense of resilience and confidence in the face of adversity. This makes it easy for abuse to happen and go unnoticed.

Additionally, the financial strain from the pandemic may have created hostility, fear, and anger among family members. With mistreatment of elders happening mostly within families, it’s easy to see why the rates of abuse have gone up in the past year.

Recognizing Abuse

Signs that someone is being abused include (but are not limited to) : unusual changes in behavior or sleep, depression, physical signs such as cuts, burns, sores, poor living conditions, lack of medical aids (glasses, walker, teeth, hearing aid, medication), unusual changes in a bank account or will, fraudulent signatures, and unpaid bills.

In general, pay attention to any unusual changes or anything seeming “off.”

And when in doubt, trust your gut feeling.

How to Fight Against Abuse

Because older people are sometimes unable or afraid to advocate for themselves, it’s everybody’s job to speak up about abuse when they see it happening.

  • Learn to recognize the signs of abuse.
  • Check in on your elderly family members to make sure they feel connected and are being taken care of.
  • Consider calling on spiritual/faith-based leaders to connect with and comfort your loved ones.
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest scams, such as Social Security scams or COVID-19 scams.

If you suspect abuse, contact the police or local anti-abuse organization. Of course, if there is immediate danger, call 911.

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect as they age. It will take a willingness and collective effort to recognize abuse and work to put an end to it.