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How to prevent elder abuse

Written by Diane Archer

Elder abuse is a serious problem that takes many forms.  According to Brown University professor Dr. Richard Besdine, it can mean physical, mental or sexual harm and financial exploitation. It can also stem from inaction such as serious neglect and failure to meet a person’s basic needs.

Elder abuse is far more common than you might imagine.  It’s estimated that about one in ten older adults experience elder abuse each year. Usually abuse comes from someone the older adult trusts.

Financial exploitation is the most common type of elder abuse.  And, sadly, nine out of ten times it is the children, spouse, hired caregivers or others known to older adults who are responsible.  But, it’s also common for outside predators to take advantage of vulnerable older people. They often use email and telephone to persuade vulnerable older people to send money and personal information their way.

Many people do not know how to identify elder abuse, turning away from the reality before them.  For example they assume that the older adult was always planning to giver her money to her son, so it shouldn’t matter he’s taking it early.  Or, the caregiver is stressed out from caregiving and takes advantage of the older adult to ease her stress.

According to Dr. Besdine, elder abuse has “devastating and far-reaching health consequences.” People who experience elder abuse are three times more likely to die younger than people who do not who otherwise have the same health profiles.  It also triples the odds they will be admitted to a hospital and quadruples their odds of a nursing home admission.

What are some of the risk factors for elder abuse?  The Centers for Disease Control lists six risk factors: 1. Heavy alcohol or drug use; 2. High levels of stress; 3. Lack of social support; 4. High emotional or financial dependence; 5. Lack of training in how to care for an older adult; 6. Depression.

How do you prevent elder abuse?

  1. Listen carefully to the older adult to get a sense of his or her challenges and offer support
  2. Help out an overextended caregiver to reduce stress and depression and enhance well-being
  3. If possible, enlist several people to help with caregiving
  4. Check in regularly with the older adult, especially if he or she has few friends or social contacts
  5. Report abuse to Adult Protective Services

For more information, call the Elder Abuse Helplines and Hotlines at 1-800-677-1116. You can also read this booklet from The National Center for Elder Abuse, Preventing Elder Abuse by Family Caregivers.

You might also be interested in reading about financial scams and how to protect yourself against strangers offering help.

To learn more, here’s a report on key elder abuse issues by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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