Elderly Abuse: Hard to Identify, Harder to Prosecute
These days, older people are not only living longer, but they are staying healthier during the process. With the “Baby Boomer” generation coming close to the age where they qualify as “seniors” the unreported topic of elderly abuse needs to be more comprehensively addressed.
On a grander scale, most types of abuse generally go unreported and are misunderstood. Many people hear the term “Elderly Abuse and Neglect” and immediately flash to thoughts of their own grandparents. Many people feel that neglect in this case means the literal act of moving elderly patients into assisted living. However, the terms used to describe this incredibly savage form of abuse are comprehensive.
Every year, it is estimated that almost 3 million elderly people in the United States are a victim of some sort of abuse, which fall into 3 distinct categories. The first is physical abuse; this is usually perpetrated by the victim’s own family. The victims’ family also usually performs the second type of abuse, financial abuse. Finally, there is psychological abuse, which not only is the hardest to identify and punish, but whose victims are usually incapable of testifying against their attackers.
What Causes Elderly Abuse?
While there is no concrete root cause of abuse, there are some indicators that if noticed, should be looked into. The first category of indicators pertain to the living situation of the elderly victim, the second category pertains specifically to the people themselves.
The living situation of an elderly person can statistically predict a greater likelihood of suffering from abuse. Sadly, members of their own family or people close to them perform the vast majority of abuse against the elderly. Usually, the reasons are pretty obvious; caretakers that are tasked with a burden that they feel is unfair, and those family members that are left out of a will may try to gain some financial benefit from the elderly unfairly.
The more subtle causes for elderly abuse lies in the elderly person themselves. For example, there are physical and mental attributes that increase the likelihood of abuse. For example, an elderly person with memory problems or mental impairments is far more likely to endure abuse than those that are healthy. Far too often, even when these victims do try and report a problem, their mental state makes them a questionable witness.
Another major contributor to elderly abuse is depression, both in the elderly victim and in their caregivers. Often, a motivating factor for abuse is the increased stress of having an elderly person to take care of. As they become older and frail, more time and effort is necessary to provide companionship and meet basic needs. The increase in effort and stress is a direct motivator for every abuse type; those that feel put out by becoming a caregiver can resort to psychological or physical abuse. Those that try to leverage the additional stress against the elderly are usually looking for some sort of financial gain, usually in a way that would violate the terms of their living will.
How can Elderly Abuse be Identified?
The victims themselves cause the issue with identifying and successfully prosecuting elderly abuse. Often times, there is a misconception that elderly abuse happens in nursing homes away from the families involved. However, the truth couldn’t be more different than common thought. The nurses and doctors employed by these assisted living facilities are extensively interviewed, pass background checks, and usually have decades of experience working with needy patients before they are allowed to practice.
The real issue is that the families or a person close to the elderly victims usually carries out the abuse and the victims feel that they can’t report it. For many victims, their family is their last refuge and source of hope for living, and the fear of losing that support in their twilight years causes them to internalize the issue and fail to report it.
Keeping an eye out for abuse factors, such as mental disease or memory loss combined with financial success can help identify victims and bring their abusers to justice.