Elder Abuse is an expanding serious problem affecting hundreds of thousands of elderly people in the United States. And since the abuse is oftentimes at the hand of a family member or friend, the issue remains largely hidden by the families, causing gross under-reporting of the crisis.
It is estimated that only 1 out of 14 incidents come to the attention of authorities. And criminal prosecution rarely occurs, because by the time law enforcement gets involved the incident has long passed and the family doesn't want to bring attention to their disgraceful family secret.
DEMENTIA COMPOUNDS PROBLEM
Statistically families (and many doctors who are not dementia specialists) ignore the early warning signs of dementia because they incorrectly believe that the intermittently odd behaviors are just a normal part of aging and untreatable senility. Most say that the behaviors just "aren't that bad yet"-which is a costly mistake in every regard. Since one out of every eight persons by the age of 65 gets some form of dementia (Alzheimer's makes up 65%), and nearly one out of every two by the age of 85 is afflicted (the fastest growing segment of population), dementia adds an enormous burden on families who are already ill-prepared for the strain of caring for an aging loved one.
CAREGIVER STRESS & DEPRESSION
Overburdened caregivers ride a roller coaster of emotions - feeling overwhelmed, out of control, sad, angry, guilty, and obligated to be in constant demand. They lose touch with friends who don't understand, their careers suffer when they must take time off or quit work, they suffer sleep deprivation, and they rarely get adequate nutrition or exercise. They feel overwhelming frustration and grief that they are not able to make their loved one better - and they experience ominous thoughts of impending death.
The National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA) reports that the rate of depression for caregivers of non-demented patients is 35.2%, which is twice the public average. Among dementia caregivers, the rate is a whopping 43-46%. And caregivers who experience the greatest levels of ongoing stress were 63% more likely to die within the next 4 years than their non-caregiving peers.
CHALLENGING ELDERS INCREASE CHANCE FOR ABUSE
When a patient becomes very difficult to manage, the caregiver experiences yet another level of frustration. Since there are 5 million people with Alzheimer's in the US, and agitation occurs in 40-60% with 7 out of 10 being cared for at home, is there any surprise that elder abuse can occur when an overstressed caregiver reaches their limit with a challenging elder? People who would have never dreamed of crossing the line are finding themselves lashing out in a moment of utter frustration. Of course, overwhelming guilt and hopelessness is the outcome.
NCEA reports that 20% of caregivers live in fear they will become violent-and this rate increases to 57% among caregivers who have previously experienced violence from those they now care for. Researchers conclude that previous violence by the care receiver appears to move persons who are fearful of becoming violent to actually commit violent acts.