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Elder abuse: A deepening current social issue

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Preventing elder abuse

According to a survey in the mid nineties, roughly 19 million adults (just over 10 percent) report at least some functional difficulty. Almost 6 million adults (3 percent) report either being completely unable to walk three blocks, climb 10 stairs, or stand 20 minutes. How do we care for these people?

Elder abuse prevalent in the US

In an earlier, perhaps more gracious time, it was not a problem. The young, the old, the strong and the weak were absorbed into the fabric of the extended family. In our fast culture is there a place for those who can no longer cope?

No one knows exactly how many elderly people are mistreated, but the National Research Council's Panel to Review Prevalence and Risk of Elder Abuse and Neglect estimated in a 2003 report that between one and two million Americans, aged 65 or older, have been injured, exploited, neglected or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depend for care or protection.

In September 2005, a frail 87 year old woman living in an expensive care facility was unhappy. It was suspected that she was being physically abused. The supplemental caregivers placed a hidden camera in her room and the results were horrifying. Their camera showed that day after day Norma was being thrown into her bed, threatened with fists, hit with a slipper and screamed at. The camera showed nurses helping themselves to Norma's money and food. Armed with the tapes, they went to the police and the nurses and the home were charged with assault and theft.

To persons of good will it is hard to understand what kind of person would abuse the elderly. Bullies actively seek out vulnerability and gains gratification provoking arguments and increasing hostility. Some even take pleasure in inflicting physical harm. There are signs you can watch for:

Types of elder abuse

Physical abuse

This includes beating, hurting or harming the patient. It often includes unnecessary restraint. You should look for:

  • Caregiver's refusal to allow you to see your parent alone.
  • Look for bruises, broken bones, or broken eyeglasses.
  • Look for cuts, open wounds, and wounds in various stages of healing
  • Look for inexplicable sprains, dislocations, and internal injuries

Mental abuse

This includes threats, verbal abuse, name calling, humiliation or efforts to punish or make the patient feel helpless. You should look for:

  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Agitation or anger
  • Withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Confusion

Elder neglect

Elder neglect is any failure to fulfill care-giving duties or obligations. You should look for:

  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Untreated bedsores
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Harmful living conditions

People are living longer and longer lives; many requiring ongoing, long-term care. Current events show that more elder abuse cases are being reported than in years past, and many experts believe that the actual number of cases will increase in the years ahead as older Americans constitute a larger proportion of the U.S. population than ever before. This is one of the pressing social issues of our time.

Preventing elder abuse

Many baby boomers, currently the age group ranging from 40 to 60 years old, can expect to live well into their 80s and 90s. Elder care often falls to the grown children of seniors, who now are baby boomers and busy with their own children and careers. Can anything be done?
  • Gaining a comprehensive overview of this current social problem is helpful.

  • Senior citizens, too, should educate themselves. They need to know what resources are available in their community, which they can use to protect themselves.
  • Children need to be educated and taught that old age is not a bad time. See Prescription for Elder Abuse on the Vision.org website. If the younger generation truly understands and respects the older generation, they will be included rather than excluded. The golden years are a fascinating time and older people have much wisdom to impart to the next generation.
  • This gets down to what is actually the more fundamental issue: ultimately the solution doesn't lie in acknowledging the issues and teaching people how the elderly should be cared for, helpful as those may be. Education can't fix the problem if people don't reassess their values.
  • In order to eliminate this growing social issue we need to become one another's keeper.

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