Every day, headlines throughout the United States paint a grim picture of seniors who have been abused, neglected, and exploited, often by the people they trust the most. Abusers may be spouses, family members, personal acquaintances, professionals in positions of trust, or opportunistic strangers who prey on the vulnerable.  Elder abuse can mean physical and psychological harm, but it may also manifest through financial exploitation and theft.

To raise awareness of this threat, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse introduced the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 14 years ago. In 2011, the United Nations officially designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  For the month of June, we will do our part to educate you on this topic through a series of blog posts, addressing the signs of elder abuse, proactive tools to assist with prevention, current scams targeting the elderly, and steps to take if you suspect abuse is occurring.

What is Elder Abuse?

In general, elder abuse refers to intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or “trusted” individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder (defined as someone 65 years of age or older). Physical abuse; neglect; emotional or psychological abuse; verbal abuse and threats; financial abuse and exploitation; sexual abuse; and abandonment are considered forms of elder abuse. In many states, self-neglect is also considered mistreatment.

How Big is the Problem?

Research indicates that more than one in ten elders may experience some type of abuse, but only one in 23 cases are reported. This means that very few seniors who have been abused get the help they need.

Who is at Risk?

Elder abuse can happen to any older individual –your neighbor, your loved one – it can even happen to you.  Elder abuse can occur anywhere – in the home, in nursing homes or other institutions. It affects seniors across all socio-economic groups, cultures, and races. Based on available information, women and “older” elders are more likely to be victimized. Dementia is a significant risk factor. Mental health and substance abuse issues– of both abusers and victims – are risk factors. Isolation can also contribute to risk.

Next week:  What are signs of elder abuse?