26 Jun Elder Abuse Awareness – What is Elder Abuse?
It’s Elder Abuse Awareness Month – What is Elder Abuse?
June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month! With a Little Help will post a series of articles written by (or with a lot of help from) our friend and colleague, geriatric health specialist Karin Taifour, MA, LMHC, GMHS.
Elder Abuse – A definition and why it is under-reported
The U.S. Department of Justice defines elder abuse as including “physical, sexual or psychological abuse, as well as neglect, abandonment, and financial exploitation of an older person by another person or entity, that occurs in any setting (e.g., home, community, or facility), either in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust and/or when an older person is targeted based on age or disability.” (See The Elder Justice Roadmap, source of most of these statistics.)
Any older (or disabled/vulnerable) adult, in any family, may experience elder abuse. Sometimes individuals bear responsibility for the abuse. Sometimes broken or ineffective systems and entities bear responsibility. Even very limited research indicates that:
• One out of every ten people ages 60 and older who live at home suffers abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
• Dementia puts elders at high risk: nearly 50% experience some kind of abuse, and 47% experience mistreatment by caregivers.
• Mental illnesses and/or substance disorders often affect perpetrators and/or victims.
• Cognitive impairment reduces capacity, increasing risk of financial exploitation.
• High rates of neglect, poor care or preventable adverse events in nursing homes and other long-term care settings affect more than two million people (most are elderly).
• About two-thirds of elder abuse victims are women.
• Disproportionate victimization of African American, Latino, poor, or isolated elders.
What exactly *is* elder abuse?
Legislatures in all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws. Laws and definitions vary considerably from one state to another, but in general:
• Physical Abuse — inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical or chemical means.
• Sexual Abuse — non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
• Emotional Abuse — inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
• Abandonment — desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
• Neglect — the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
• Self-neglect — characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.
• Exploitation — the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
But unfortunately, the vast majority of cases go unreported.
For every 1 case of elder abuse that comes to light, another 24 remain hidden.
Why don’t victims report it?
• Dependence: reliance on the abuser/exploiter, that they may be abandoned
• Fear of retaliation: it will get worse if they say anything
• Lack of knowledge: what is abuse, what help there might be, where/how to get help
Why don’t others report it?
• Families – family conflict, dysfunctional factors, fear of getting in trouble themselves, thinking it might make things worse, don’t know who to call.
• Friends/neighbors – don’t know who to call, reluctance to get involved, fear of retaliation, “not my business” etc.
• Professionals – uneducated around signs, lack of knowledge about the requirement to report even suspected issues.
Cultural factors in abuse reporting
• A person’s culture of origin influences their family dynamics and what is acceptable behavior and treatment of others.
• Culture can also impact whether a person feels able to ask for help outside the family or community.
• Cultural factors and prior experience can also affect how the person trusts or feels comfortable with health care providers or other professionals
Did you know that Washington Long-Term Services and Supports has been Rated Top by AARP?
To report to DSHS / APS, call 1-866-END-HARM, or 1-866-363-4276.
Any criminal activity or assault must be reported to law enforcement:
* Call 911 if emergency situation, or
* Call local police agency’s non-emergency line or local precinct to make a police report (where the crime occurred).
If you are unsure…
* If you are unsure who to call or how to report, call the DSHS Hotline at 800-562-6078
* If you are unsure whether you need to report, CALL!
* You will never be held liable for making a report you didn’t need to make — but you run the risk of a misdemeanor charge and losing your professional license if you don’t report information that you should!
* For more information online, see https://www.dshs.wa.gov/report-abuse-and-neglect
Article researched by Aging Care Consultation Services – Karin Taifour, MA LMHC GMHS
Karin Taifour is a licensed mental health counselor and geriatric mental health specialist, and has worked in mental health with older adults for over 12 years. You can contact Karin at: 206-999-5934, and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. See her website here: Aging Care Consultation.
Coming Soon – A Chart of Elder Abuse and What Constitutes Financial Exploitation