Elder abuse and neglect is emerging as a critical public health issue. It is one of the most under-acknowledged and under-reported public health threats.
The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as a "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 broken down into 5 distinctive types of abuse:
- Physical: This could come in the form of hitting, punching, slapping, restraining, confining, burning, kicking, giving excessive or improper medication, or otherwise hurting a senior.
- Emotional: This might be the act of humiliating a senior or ridiculing, shunning, or aggressively yelling. Emotional abuse can also take the form of coercing an older person to take a particular action using threats.
- Financial: The misappropriation of financial resources by family members, caregivers, or others. This often includes using financial means to control a senior or threaten them.
- Sexual: Forcing a senior to participate in sexual acts or conversations against their will, or in the case that they can no longer give consent.
- Neglect: Depriving a senior of proper medical care, food, heat, clothing, comfort, or needed services.
Each year, millions of older Americans are abused, neglected, and exploited. In Massachusetts, elder abuse reports have increased by 37 percent since 2011, with more than 1,000 additional cases reported in each of the past five years. In 2016 alone, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs recorded nearly 25,000 cases.
What can be done?
To start, it’s important to talk about elder abuse with family members, caregivers, community members, and seniors themselves. Sharing the signs and symptoms of elder abuse will allow us all to be more vigilant.
Some key signs and symptoms of elder abuse include:
Reluctance of senior to go see a doctor
Changes in mood or behavior
Report of drug overdose or failure to take medicines
Signs of restraints on legs or wrists
Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
Unusual weight loss
Missing possessions or cash
Unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
- Unsafe living conditions
Elder abuse is a large and growing problem, but it’s not insurmountable. Hebrew SeniorLife, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs and Greater Boston Legal Services, has set out to combat the incidence of elder abuse in Massachusetts through education, awareness and action. For us, it starts with understanding the issue and talking about it within our communities. From there, if we can recognize the signs and symptoms, take action, and work together, we can make great strides in protecting our seniors.