Elder Abuse – A Call to Action

by Pam Gennings, Oxford HealthCare

I spent 10 years working for the Missouri Division of Aging (now the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services) and during that time I investigated numerous reports of elder abuse. Elder abuse can occur anywhere in the community, it has no bounds, and it crosses all cultures and races. I went to the nicest of neighborhoods and to the poorest of neighborhoods, and in each area, I saw elderly people that were abused by those they trusted the most.

What is Elder Abuse?

Many people think of elderly abuse as an older person who is physically abused. Physical abuse of the elderly is only one facet of elder abuse. Elder Abuse as defined by the National Center on Elder Abuse is the intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or “trusted” individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder. Physical abuse; neglect; emotional or psychological abuse; financial abuse and exploitation; sexual abuse; and abandonment are considered forms of elder abuse. In many states, self-neglect is also considered mistreatment.

Who is most at risk?

The “oldest” of the elderly population are at a higher risk of abuse as well as those with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The elderly that are isolated either by choice or due to a physical or mental condition is also at a higher risk for elder abuse.

A recent article published by the National Association for Home Care & Hospice quoted Kathy Greenlee, the Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary for aging and the administrator of the Administration for Community Living as saying “The fastest growing population is people 85 years old, or older…and stemming the tide of abuse will require individuals, neighbors, communities, and public and private entities to take a hard look at how each of us encounters elder abuse—and commit to combat it.”1

What can you do?

  • Learn the signs of elder abuse. The National Center of Elder Abuse has developed a Red Flags of Abuse Factsheet that lists the signs of and risk factors for abuse and neglect.
  • Report suspected abuse when you see it. Contact your local adult protective services agency. Phone numbers for state or local office can be found at the National Center for Elder Abuse website, or call 1-800-677-1116.
  • If it is life threatening situation or immediate danger call 911 or the local police or sheriff.

1 “DOJ and HHS Call for Action to Address Abuse of Older Americans”. National Association for Home Care & Hospice. National Association for Home Care & Hospice Online. Web. 15 July 2014