We “After Fiftiers” are in an interesting position. As Boomers age, the number of people aged 65+ continues to grow exponentially. The majority of those subjected to elder abuse are 65+ – so as we Boomers age, we’re more likely to become victims. At the same time, many Boomers find themselves in the position of caregiver to an elder – or, have an elderly relative who may fall victim to abuse. We need to be alerted to the signs of abuse and be aware of options.
The elderly population in the US is growing rapidly. (See chart below, from the 2010 US Census.) By 2050, 20% of the US population will be 65 or older – and those over age 85 are growing at the most rapid rate.
WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT ELDER ABUSE?
As an After Fiftier, there are two significant reasons why this issue is important to you – right now. First, elder abuse can happen to anyone – regardless of financial situation, race, culture, gender. So, it can, and very may well happen to you as you age. You need to alert yourself NOW about what to do to protect yourself. Second, because it can happen to anyone, anywhere, the elderly loved ones in your life may be victimized. It can happen in a person’s own home, in a hospital or in any other kind of institutional setting, such as a nursing home. Don’t assume that because Nanny is in that beautifully appointed assisted living facility that she isn’t being victimized.
It’s estimated that every year 2.1M older Americans are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation – and that may be only part of the picture. It’s believed that there are at least 5 times as many cases that go unreported.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY “ELDER ABUSE?”
Elder Abuse is defined differently by each state. (Contact the National Center on Elder Abuse to see how your state defines it.) But don’t be stymied by legalese.
There are many forms of the abuse, including:
Financial abuse and exploitation – (may include lack of affordable amenities; giving excessive gifts or compensation for care and companionship; a caregiver with control over the elder’s money failing to provide for needed care; property transfers when the elder doesn’t understand what’s happening);
Physical abuse – (poorly explained fractures, bruises, welts, cuts, sores, burns);
Sexual abuse – (unexplained sexually transmitted disease);
Emotional or psychological abuse – (Caregiver is verbally aggressive, demeaning, controlling, uncaring; caregiver isolates the elder, not letting anyone into the home or speak to the elder);
Neglect – (lack of basic hygiene or appropriate clothing; lack of dentures, hearing aids, walker, glasses, medications; home is cluttered, dirty or in disrepair; untreated bedsores; lack of food; dementia sufferer left unsupervised or person who is bed-ridden is left without care);
How prevalent is Elder Abuse? Over 50% of nursing home staff ADMIT to mistreating older patients – and 95% of nursing home residents said in a study back in 2000 that they had been either neglected themselves or had seen another resident neglected. (See report from the National Center on Elder Abuse here.)
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS? WHAT TO LOOK FOR?
Elder abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere and according to available information, women, elders who are homebound or isolated, and people 80+ are most at risk. Elders at risk include those who are socially isolated or withdrawn, those in poor physical health; and those who have dementia, mental health or substance abuse issues. Note that perpetrators themselves frequently have mental health or substance abuse issues.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PROTECT SENIORS?
The National Center on Elder Abuse has produced a list (see it here) of 10 things we can do to protect our loved ones. We are re-producing it here for your benefit.
1. Learn the signs of elder abuse and neglect.
2. Call or visit elderly relatives, friends, and neighbors and ask how they are doing.
3. Provide a respite for a caregiver by filling in for a few hours or more.
4. Ask an older acquaintance to share his or her talents by teaching you or your children a new skill.
5. Ask your faith leaders to discuss with their congregations elder abuse prevention and the importance of respecting older adults.
6. Ask your bank manager to train tellers on how to detect financial exploitation of elders.
7. Suggest your doctor talk to his or her older patients individually about possible abuse.
8. Contact your local adult protective services or long-term care ombudsman to learn how to support their work helping at-risk elders.
9. Volunteer to be a friendly visitor to a nursing home resident or homebound elder in your community.
10. Send a letter to your local paper, radio, or TV station suggesting it cover World Elder Abuse Awareness Day or National Grandparents Day.