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Learn the Facts about Elder Abuse and Neglect

It’s an unfortunate fact that as many as one in ten older adults in the U.S. is abused, neglected, and exploited – often by caregivers or others in positions of trust and influence. “While it can occur anywhere, elder abuse happens most often in the home setting or in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes,” explains UAB Associate Professor of Neurology and Pathology Richard E. Powers, MD. “Typically, the abuse is directed at a confused or depressed older adult, and this condition inhibits his or her ability to report the abuse. Increasing awareness among caregivers, family members, and law enforcement is an important step in reducing the occurrence of elder abuse.”

Understanding the Problem
  • “Often, the abuser is male, and the victim is female,” says Dr. Powers. “It’s also common for the perpetrator to be a middle-aged male with a substance abuse problem. However, the abuser can also be anyone who has access to or influence over an older adult.”
  • There are many different types of elder abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial exploitation. Also, neglect and abandonment are forms of abuse.
  • Most cases of abuse in the home setting are discovered because the older adult is admitted to the hospital for some reason. “At that point, signs of physical abuse or neglect are often detected,” adds Dr. Powers.
  • A significant number of older adults in nursing homes report they have been victims of emotional or physical abuse – or that they have seen it. Also, studies indicate that 53% of nursing home workers suspect abuse or neglect at their facility, but only 35% report it. “Because 70% of nursing home patients have dementia, this population is vulnerable to abuse. The good news is that there are many safeguards against abuse in regulated nursing homes,” explains Dr. Powers. “When a patient in a nursing home has an unexplained injury, the facility must provide an explanation.” Dr. Powers stresses that the highest risk for abuse is in unlicensed facilities, which are present in every state. “These facilities answer to no one and lack liability insurance and standards of care.” He advises family members to select a licensed long-term care facility with a substantial staff that also has good overall morale. “Abuse is most likely to occur in nursing homes in which the staff is overworked and undertrained.”
  • Dr. Powers says studies indicate that nursing home patients who are visited the least are the most likely to be abused. “Visit often and erratically. Don’t always visit according to a predictable schedule.” He also advises giving frequent words of encouragement and thanks to the staff members providing good, consistent care to your loved one.
Warning Signs of Possible Abuse or Neglect
  • Unexplained weight loss, malnutrition, or dehydration
  • Changes in personality or behavior in the older adult
  • Unexplained signs of injury, such as bruises or scars
  • Untreated physical problems, such as bed sores
  • Frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and the older adult
  • Sudden changes in finances and accounts, altered wills and trusts, and loss of property
Article last updated: November 22, 2010 3:44 PM