Elder abuse occurs in all cultures, societies, and countries. About one and a half million older adults in the United States are abused every year. In Canada, about four percent of older adults living in private homes report that they have been abused or neglected. The true figures for abuse may be much higher than these estimates. Experts believe that most cases of elder abuse are never reported.
Elder abuse occurs in the older person’s own home. It occurs in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement homes, hospitals, and hospices. Elder abuse can occur anywhere. It can occur to anyone.
WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE?
Elder abuse is often called “older adult abuse” or “senior abuse”. There is no one accepted definition of elder abuse. Different states, countries, and cultures define elder abuse in a variety of ways. Elder abuse has been described as treating older persons in a way that causes them harm or that is likely to harm them.
Elder abuse can be divided into three categories. These are domestic elder abuse, institutional elder abuse, and self-neglect or self-abuse.
Domestic elder abuse occurs at home when an older person is badly treated by someone close to the older person. The abuser can be a spouse, a child, a friend, or other caregiver. Institutional elder abuse is any abuse that occurs in homes for older persons such as nursing homes, group homes, or foster homes. In this case, a healthcare worker, usually a paid caregiver, abuses the older client. Self-neglect or self-abuse occurs when older people do not take care of themselves, or when they harm themselves on purpose.
Elder abuse includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, self-neglect, and financial abuse. These types of abuse are discussed in more detail further on in the module.
<h2>WHO IS THE ELDER ABUSER?</h2>
In domestic abuse cases, the elder abuser is quite often a family member. A family member was involved in about 90% of the cases of neglect and abuse in a 1996 national study of abuse in the U.S. The victim’s adult child or a spouse was the abuser in nearly 68% of the cases in the study.
The abuser often lives with the victim. Caring for an older person who needs help with most aspects of care is hard work. Few supports may be in place. The caregiver may not have been trained to provide the care that is needed. Abuse often occurs when the older person’s condition worsens and caregiver stress increases. Hard work and stress, however, are never an excuse for abuse.
Other factors that elder abusers often have in common include:
• History of mental illness
• Family history of violence and abuse
• Problems with alcohol or other drugs
• Lack of money
The average abuser has cared for the older person for at least nine years. The abuser is most often a daughter. She may be having marriage problems. There could be trouble with alcohol or drugs. The abuser often quits work to care for the older person. Without that work, the family may have money worries. The older person is seen as a burden to the family and to the people who take care of her. Sometimes the abuser is trying to “get even” because the older person abused them when they were children.