iAge

Changing how we see aging

Elder Abuse

The quiet violence

Some studies are showing that most people who commit elder abuse have themselves been abused as children. The perpetuity of abuse does not lessen the horrendous impact this crime visits on the victim’s state of mind, physical well-being, and dignity. Older adults who are abused and neglected are three times more likely to die earlier than those who are not abused. Although statistics hide the personal degradation of abuse, it is important to understand the context so that we can lessen its cancerous growth in our community.

In the United States more than 360,000 new cases of elder abuse are reported each year, which sadly translates to 40 new cases per hour. In San Diego County, Adult Protective Services deals with around 5,000 confirmed cases of elderly abuse every year. With a doubling of the aging population by 2030 to more than 70 million, we will continue seeing a burgeoning of elder abuse cases. San Diego County is home to the second largest elderly population in the state and the fourth largest in the nation with an estimated 342,000 older adults.

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By understanding the context of elder abuse, it is possible to address it before it happens. Most elder abuse cases involve a caregiver--usually a family member or a friend--who has become dependent on the older adult for their livelihood. The victims of elder abuse are more likely to be female who are frail and dependant living with their caregiver. In most cases victims are more likely to have varying stages of dementia and are already socially isolated from their peers. On the other hand, most perpetrators of abuse are caregivers who have a history of some mental illness or substance abuse, and who are economically dependent on the older adult they are supposed to be caring for.

While self neglect and abandonment comprise two out of three cases of abuse, financial abuse in California constitutes 13% of cases. With more seniors becoming computer-savvy, internet financials scams now account for a large number of financial abuse cases.

We have not invested enough in prevention strategies. Community involvement is one possible solution, where volunteers befriend vulnerable older adults and establish contact (by phone or visits). The less invisible vulnerable older adults become, the less likely that they will be victimized. Connecting with vulnerable adults can be accomplished in many ways.

For example, Julie Sugita, a dentist who graduated from the SDSU gerontology program, developed awareness training to help dentists and oral hygienists—who have long periods of close examination with patients— identify potential elder abuse.The paper that was published, shows that education is an important tool in identifying elder abuse.

If you are an older adult that relies of caregivers for your day to day activities, ensure that you communicate with family and friends about your arrangement. Do not feel guilty about reporting abuse.Abuse almost always gets worse, and it never improves on its own. Although we might be able to predict abuse, we need to be better able to prevent it in order to break the cycle.

© USA Copyrighted 2013 Mario D. Garrett

Mario Garrett, Ph.D., is a professor at the school of social work, San Diego State University.

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