Experts report that knowledge about elder abuse lags as much as two decades behind the fields of child abuse and domestic violence. Limited past research means limited data to guide practitioners, policymakers, and trainers. What we do know now is alarming: elders who experience a form of abuse, even modest abuse, have a reported 300% higher risk of death. Even verbal abuse has been linked to seniors’ physical health issues and well-being.
With resource constraints in a constantly aging population, a once-hidden problem will be impossible to overlook. But as more studies come to light – and as state Adult Protective Services data show an uptick in the reporting of incidents – elder abuse has emerged as an important social public health issue. But whatever the statistics for the U.S. and beyond, researchers do agree that elder abuse is an epidemic.
What is Elder Abuse?
Specific definitions vary on what elder abuse really is, and those definitions continue to evolve. The WHO calls elder abuse “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person”. It can be verbal, physical, psychological or emotional, sexual or financial. It can also be neglect–either intentional or unintentional.
Losing friends and family members, as well as their own physical and mental capacity, often isolates elderly people.
Who is at Risk for Elder Abuse?
Even with imperfect statistics on elder abuse, we do know that social isolation and lack of social support is a significant risk factor. Losing friends and family members, as well as their own physical and mental capacity, often isolates elderly people. This can place a burden on the nearby relatives who are available to tend to their care…and who become isolated themselves. Historically, children shared the responsibility for the care of aging parents. Today, migration of young families means that many elderly are left alone with inadequate funds to pay for outside care and limited options for care at home.