Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Five categories of elder abuse that go unrecognized



Elder Abuse Part II

This is a follow up to my last article on adult abuse and neglect that appeared in the Senior Moments column on November 5.

The past edition noted some overwhelming statistics; 33,812 adult reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation in the state of Florida from January 1, through September 31, 2010. In speaking with Ms. Pamela Blumenthal, SunCoast Region, regional program administrator, Adult Protective Services, I have provided the cases for Collier County (District 8) only. The records shows for the same period complaints of 145 self neglect reports; exploitation 57, inadequate supervision 50, physical abuse injuries 42, environmental hazards 23, medical neglect 23, mental injury 19, caregiver unavailable 10, sexual abuse 6, bizarre punishment, and one death. This is truly tragic and to think these are only those incidences that have been reported!

Elder abuse can occur anywhere and according to the World Health Organization, it is predicted by 2025, the global population of those aged 60 years and older will be around 1.2 billion. Elder abuse is under recognized and fewer cases are reported as elders are often reluctant to report the mistreatment. Experts estimate that only one in six cases or fewer are reported, which means that very few seniors who have been abused get the help that they need. With the growing senior population, how big is this problem? States do keep statistics, but nobody really knows for certain. One thing is for sure however elder abuse can happen to any older individual – your neighbor, or your loved one – it can even happen to you!

So, what is this phenomenon called elder abuse? In general terms, it refers to the intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or “trusted” individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder. It results in harm to an older person’s well-being or safety. It can happen anywhere – in the home, nursing facilities, or other institutions. It affects those across all socio-economic groups and cultures, and races. Based on current information, women and “older” elders are more likely to be victimized. Mental health and substance abuse issues are risk factors and isolation can also be another contributing factor. Someone with dementia poses even a greater threat of being abused.

When most of us think of abuse we tend to think about physical abuse only; however, there are actually five defined definitions of elder abuse, and for older adults the consequences can be especially serious because their bones are more brittle and convalescence takes them longer, so even a relatively minor injury can cause serious and/or permanent damage.

They are as follows:

Physical abuse: is the use of physical force which may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment. It may also include, but is not limited to, such acts of violence as striking (with or without an object), beating hitting, shoving or pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, shoving or burning.

Sexual abuse: defined as a non –consensual sexual contact of any kind with a disabled or elderly person or with any persons who is incapable of given consent? This includes unwanted touching, all types of sexual assault or battery, such as rape, coerced nudity, sexually explicit photography or sodomy.

Emotional or physiological abuse: such an affliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts falls under this category. Emotional and or/physiological abuse range from threats, intimidation, humiliation, and harassment. In addition, treating an older person like an infant; isolating and elderly person from his/her family, friends, or regular activities; giving an older person the “silent treatment;’ and enforced isolation can also be considered within this grouping.

Have you ever considered intimidation or humiliation in the overall scope of elder abuse? Would you take it upon yourself to report such a discovery for investigation?

Neglect: As the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elder, neglect may also include failure of a person who has fiduciary responsibilities to provide care for an elder ( pay for necessary home care services), or failure on the part of an in-home service provider for the necessary care. Typically, neglect means the result of failure to provide an elder with such life necessities as food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medications, comfort measures, personal safety and any other necessary essentials included in an implied or agreed-upon responsibility to an elder.

Exploitation: Today seniors are up against so many scams . . . this includes but is not limited to the misuse of an elderly or disabled person for personal or monetary benefit, which is a crime. This includes taking social Security or SSI checks, abusing a joint checking account or taking property or other resources in the name of the older person without his or her permission.

According to recent statistics, many older persons in the community are mentally competent and do not need constant care, but the greatest physical harm is often done to those in frail health. And sometimes people who believe that someone else is being abused do not report their suspicions because they: 1) do not know to whom they should speak 2.) they may be afraid to interfere in family relationships. 3) they don’t know what can be done, or 4) they just don’t want to get involved. This is the tragic ingredient!

We must all take responsibility as the Florida law states and be diligent in looking for the signs of abuse in the above mentioned categories, and more importantly report the suspicion(s) promptly. As a reminder, Florida law (Chapter 475) requires that persons who know or have reasonable cause to suspect, that an adult has been neglected or abused report such knowledge to the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873).

Join me next time for the last installment which will outline some of the warning signs and what you can do to prevent elder abuse, and some resources for help.

Paula Camposano Robinson, RN, is co-founder and owner of Sanitasole Senior Health Services. This is an information-only column and is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician. Email or visit, for more information. Phone: 239.394.9931.

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