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Elder Abuse & Neglect: Surprising Findings

Aug 18, 2007
Elder abuse is defined as mistreatment or improper treatment that includes physical, sexual, emotional abuse or confinement. Neglect is broader and includes self neglect, which is more common than one would think. Neglect includes not giving proper attention to a person who needs assistance, such as leaving a person unattended who needs care. Self neglect occurs when an individual does not care for their physical or medical needs. Financial exploitation also falls under these categories.

Self neglect occurs in about 48% of cases reported to county social service agencies. Psychological, emotional and physical abuse by family members constitutes 20% of the cases and 13% is represented by financial or material exploitation. (Source: Olinger, David. Elderly Abuse Rising Statewide. Denver Post, 1/23/2005 p. 1a, 8a.). It is surprising to find that family members represent the main source of financial exploiters.

The abuser is most often a family member living with the older adult: 32.5% child, 19.2% other relatives, 14.4% spouse. (Totara, 1993). Many times, the abuse is accepted by the family as a normal way of life and is not seen as a problem. The abuse normally results from a long term abusive relationship. The victim is usually dependent on the abuser for care and assistance.

In cases where the mature adult has Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia abuse is most common. The demands on the family caregiver are substantial, especially when the older adult cannot be left alone and there are few others who can assist. It is in many of these cases when a child moves in to take care of a parent that financial abuse occurs because the child becomes dependent on the income of the parent. In many cases the family caregiver suffers from depression and other chronic health issues. While this does not excuse the potential for abuse, it offers a basis to educate family caregivers on the need to seek outside assistance.

Self abuse, the most common form of neglect also occurs more frequently in mature adults with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia. These individuals fail to perform daily activities of hygiene, nutrition and medication compliance and housekeeping because of advanced cognitive impairment. If no children or family members are available, the individual becomes isolated and falls within the cracks of society with no one noticing the self neglect until an event occurs where the mature adult becomes lost, has a house fire or has an interaction with a neighbor who reports the individual to county social services.

As the number of mature adults increases in society, those who come in contact with individuals who may be suffering from neglect or self abuse have a duty to ask questions in order to offer protection to those who may not be able to care for themselves.
About the Author
Pamela D. Wilson is a care navigator supporting mature adults and their family members with health care and related decisions. Visit Pamela D. Wilson, Inc. at http://www.pameladwilson.com
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