Abuse of the elderly remains an ignored and hidden problem in society.
The government has been more concerned with the rising profile of child abuse to the extent that abuse of the elderly has been relegated to the periphery (Nerenberg, 2007).
Abuse for the elderly mainly takes place in homes as well as in institutional settings. The main perpetrators are relatives, care staff, friends, and strangers.
Abuse of the elderly can take various forms, including financial abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, abuse of medication through sedating and controlling patients, behavior meant to humiliate and degrade, and neglect Much abuse often goes unreported since the majority of elderly people are frightened, embarrassed, or unable to report its presence.
The essay is an attempt to explore the causes, occurrences, consequences, and preventative measures for elderly abuse.
The causes of elder abuse have remained a much-debated issue, both in service provision and research. The main causes of elderly abuse include:
- The victim’s dependency on the perpetrator is a result of mental and physical impairment (Baviano, 1996).
- The abuser’s psychopathological status, such as substance abuse
- Violence in the family, such as the elderly getting entangled in violent relationships
- The abuser’s financial dependence on the elderly
- Carer stress
It is quite difficult to quantify elder abuse due to several reasons. There is a higher likelihood of unreported cases of elder abuse. In addition, sometimes the elderly may not be aware that they are being abused.
Abuse is also repeatedly hidden. Consequently, the reported cases of elder abuse represent only a small fraction of the experience. The under-reported incidences of elder abuse could also be due to inadequate training and knowledge, poor practice, and lack of awareness regarding what entails elder abuse among staff. It becomes hard therefore to obtain robust evidence (House of Commons Health Committee, 2004).
Academic research regarding the prevalence of elder abuse is also quite limited. Variability about the definition of abuse is a limiting factor as well. According to one study, approximately 25 % of vulnerable elderly people are likely to report incidences of abuse. A study carried out in Canada reports that nearly 70 % of the victims of elder abuse are women. The UK-based AEA helpline has supported this evidence as well estimating that 67 % of elder abuse victims are women (House of Commons Health Committee, 2004).
A survey carried out in the United States revealed that in the previous year 36 % of the staff at nursing homes had at least witnessed one case of elder abuse. A further 10% admitted that they were perpetrators of at least one incident of physical abuse. A further 40% of the nursing-home staff admitted that in the previous year, they had physically abused elderly patients (WHO, 2002).
Elder abuse appears to increase with age and as Action on Elder Abuse, 2005) reports 78 % of victims are likely to be above 70 years.
The consequences of abuse are often very serious in the case of older people. This is because their bones tend to be extremely brittle and as such, they usually take a long time to convalescence (WHO, 2002). A permanent or serious injury could also result from what is regarded as a relatively minor injury.
Socio-Political environment and elder abuse
Elder abuse is regarded as a social and political construct as evidenced from the following perspectives:
- The definition of elder abuse tends to vary depending on the prevailing political forces
- Family conflicts are mainly responsible for elder abuse, with the elderly getting involved in an individual contest for benefits and resources
- The debate on elder abuse corresponds to the wider debate on the allocation of resources to an aging population.
To reduce the prevalence of elder abuse in society, the following preventive measures are recommended:
The medical profession should play a pivotal role by creating public awareness of elder abuse. Hospitals should also have intervention programs to diagnose and treat victims of elder abuse
The government should endeavor to establish a social services network that includes legal, medical, financial, and psychological services to assist victims of elder abuse.
Additional interventions would include support groups and emergency shelters.
Public awareness campaigns and education
Public awareness campaigns and education helps to prevent neglect and abuse. Through such efforts practitioners, along with the general public, learn about the various forms of abuse, the symptoms and signs of elder abuse, and where to go for help.
Action on Elder Abuse. (2005). Hidden Voices: Older people’s experience of abuse. Web.
Biviano, N. (1996). Abuse of the non-institutionalised aged. Australian Social Work, 49(4), p. 4146.
House of Commons Health Committee. (2004). Elder Abuse Second Report of Session 2003–04. Volume I. Web.
Nerenberg, L. (2008). Elder Abuse Prevention: Emerging Trends and Promising Strategies. New York: Springer.
WHO. (2002). Abuse of the elderly. Web.