Elder Abuse Day Highlights a Problem That Often Goes Unnoticed
Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a day aimed at bringing greater awareness of elder abuse worldwide. WEAAD serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elders. This year’s theme is "One person. Once action. One Nation. United against elder abuse."
Many people don’t realize just how prevalent elder abuse is: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year an estimated 5 million, or 1 in 10, older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23.5 cases go unreported.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse occurs when a caregiver, or another trusted individual intentionally or through negligence causes harm to a vulnerable elder.
Seniors across all socio-economic groups, cultures, and races are can fall victim, and abuse can happen anywhere: in the home, in institutional settings, and at the hospital. In New Hampshire, elder abuse falls under adult abuse as defined by the Adult Protection Law (RSA 161-F: 42-57):
“Adult abuse is any action or omission that results or could result in harm to a person age 18 or older who cannot provide for his or her own care and protection due to the effects of aging or a chronic illness or disability.”
According to Alana Officer, Senior Health Adviser, Department of Ageing and Life Course at WHO, "Despite the frequency and the serious health consequences, elder abuse remains one of the least investigated types of violence in national surveys, and one of the least addressed in national plans to prevent violence,"
There are many forms of elder abuse including:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse and exploitation
- Emotional or psychological abuse and neglect (including verbal abuse and threats
Elders who have dementia, are socially isolated, have mental health and/or substance abuse issues, or who are in poor physical health, are more vulnerable to abuse. The health effects of abuse can range from traumatic injury to depression, stress and anxiety. Elders who experience abuse, neglect, or self-neglect face a considerably higher risk of premature death than elders who have not been mistreated.
What to Look For
The state Department of Health and Human Services lists the following of warning signs that abuse may be occurring
- Being left alone for long periods of time without supervision or assistance when it is needed
- Experiencing malnutrition/dehydration
- Fear, anxiety or agitation around certain household members or caregivers
- Increasing withdrawal and isolation
- Lack of routine medical care
- Misusing or stealing money or possessions
- Physical contact of a sexual nature
- Threats or intimidation or unwanted remarks
- Unexplained bruises, welts or burns
- Unexplained changes in health status
Self-neglect occurs when at-risk adults cannot or does not care for themselves in an appropriate manner. Some signs of self-neglect are:
- Frequent falls
- History of fires or burns from smoking or cooking
- Hoarding that interferes with safety
- Inability to manage finances or pay bills
- Noncompliance with or inability to take medication as prescribed
- Unclean physical appearance, soiled clothing, inappropriate clothing for the weather, fecal/urine smell
- Unsanitary conditions in the home
- Untreated medical conditions
- Wandering or getting lost.
What You Can Do
A number of changes need to be made in our society to address the problem of elder abuse. There needs to be increased awareness of the issue by medical professionals, adults, and young people. Seniors need to have an environment where they feel safe to speak out about abuse, and get the support they need. More services need to be available for seniors to prevent isolation, recognize abuse when it occurs, and provide intervention.
Individuals can help by speaking out against abuse and helping to raise awareness; avoiding ageist stereotypes; and keeping in contact, talking and visiting with your older friends, neighbors, and relatives frequently.
In New Hampshire, under the Adult Protection Law, if you are being abused or suspect someone else is, you are required to report it to the Bureau of Elderly & Adult Services. Your report is confidential and proof of abuse or neglect is not required to make a report.
Even if you’re unsure if a situation meets the threshold of neglect, you should contact one of the following:
BEAS – (800) 949-0470 or (603) 271-7014, from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday
Fax: (603) 271-4743
For Nursing or Assisted Living Facilities – Contact the Long Term Care Ombudsman at (800) 442-5640 or (603) 271-4375.
Call 911 or the local police after hours, weekends or holidays.
Elder abuse is everyone’s problem. All of us will be elderly one day; to prevent an increase in abuse and to prevent it in the future, we need to start today.
Graphics via World Health Organization. For more information, go to http://www.who.int/life-course/news/events/world-elder-abuse-awareness-day/en/