Elder Abuse Growing as an Issue in United States

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • An Associated Press story recently caught my eye. The topic was elder abuse and the projection was terrifying. The article stated that some researchers have found that one in 10 seniors have been subjected to some form of abuse at least once, as compared to the often estimated total of 2 million that is based on available statistics and surveys.


    And with current demographic trends, elder abuse probably isn’t going away soon. That’s because the number of Americans who are 65 years old and above is estimated to double by 2030 because of the Baby Boomers who were born between 1946 and 1964. In addition, the number of people who are 85 years old and above is increasing by an even more rapid rate.

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    Now those numbers on abuse don’t delineate between elders who have dementia and those who don’t. However, the percentage may skew toward people who have dementia. “Elders with dementia are thought to be at greater risk of abuse and neglect than those of the general elderly population,” states a fact sheet created by the University of California, Irvine’s Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect.


    Before we go any further, let’s define what elder abuse is. The Alzheimer’s Association describes multiple types of abuse, including:

    • Physical abuse, which causes bodily pain or injury.
    • Emotional abuse, which includes verbal assaults, threats of possible abuse, harassment and intimidation.
    • Neglect, which includes a failure to provide things that are necessary for life, including food, shelter, medical care or a safe environment.
    • Confinement, which includes restraints or isolation.
    • Financial abuse, which involves misusing or withholding the person’s financial resources (money or property to the disadvantage of the elder or to the advantage of another person.
    • Sexual abuse, which includes touching, fondling or an y sexual activity when the person is not able to understand, is unwilling to consent, feels threatened or is physically forced.
    • Willful deprivation, which includes the willful denial of a person’s medication, medical care, food, shelter and physical assistance. This deprivation exposes the person who has Alzheimer’s disease to the risk of harm, whether it is physical, mental or emotional.
    • Self neglect.  “Due to lack of insight and cognitive changes, a person with Alzheimer's may be unable to safely and adequately provide for day-to-day needs, and may be at risk for harm, falls, wandering and/or malnutrition,” the Alzheimer’s Association stated.

    So are there estimates of the prevalence of abuse against people with dementia? The University of California, Irving fact sheet cited a U.S. study that found that 20 percent of caregivers said they were afraid that they would become violent with the people under their care. Furthermore, three international studies determined that the overall rate of abuse of people who have dementia by their caregivers range from 34 percent to 62 percent. A U.S. study found that 47 percent of caregivers who were surveyed reported abusing and neglecting people with dementia. Studies have suggested that the type of abuse used the most is verbal abuse (60 percent) followed by neglect (14 percent). Up to 10 percent of caregivers reported being physically abusive to the person for whom they were caring.


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    So what are the characteristics of someone who may be mistreating a person with dementia? The research has found that the caregivers may be anxious and depressed, feeling like they are burdened by caregiving. And interestingly, the best indicator of elder abuse is believed to be if the care recipient shows behaviors related to psychological aggression and physical assault.


    Every U.S. state has laws against elder abuse so it’s important to you suspect elder abuse, you need to report it. If the person with dementia is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for help. Otherwise, here is a list of contacts per state that’s available on the National Center on Elder Abuse’s website.


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    Alzheimer’s Association. (nd). Abuse.


    Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect. (nd). How at risk for abuse are people with dementia? University of California, Irvine.


    National Center on Elder Abuse. (2011). State directory of helplines, hotlines, and elder abuse prevention resources.


    Sewell, D. (2013). Aging America: Elder abuse, use of shelters rising. KGO-TV San Francisco.

Published On: January 31, 2013