As the number and percentage of individuals 65 and over has increased in this country,
so has the incidence of elder abuse. There are some signs of abuse, neglect or exploitation
which might alert family members, concerned friends or professionals to the possibility
of problems. No one should jump to conclusions, but signs and symptoms should be
taken seriously. What sometimes seems to be self-neglect often turns out to be elder
Physical abuse is generally defined as the improper use of physical force that may
or does result in bodily harm, injury, physical pain, or restraint of an individual.
Physical frailty, decreased physical ability, and vision and audio impairments make
older persons especially susceptible to physical abuse. The following are indicators:
- fractures and dislocations
- lacerations and abrasions
- injuries to the head, scalp, face
- bruises-on upper arms (from shaking), around wrists or ankles (from being tied down),
in shapes similar to objects, inside of thighs or arms
Sexual Abuse is defined as any non-consensual sexual touching or contact of any
kind. The following are indicators:
- sexually transmitted diseases
- pain, itching, bleeding or bruising in the genital area
Psychological abuse is the intentional or reckless infliction of psychological pain,
injury, suffering or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. The following are
- low self-esteem
- overly anxious or withdrawn
- extreme changes in mood
- suicidal behavior
- confusion or disorientation
Financial abuse or exploitation involves the theft or conversion of money or property
belonging to an elder, accomplished by force, misrepresentation, or other illegal
means often by taking advantage of the elder's partial or total lack of legal competency.
The loss of what may appear to be a minimal amount of money to some, may account
for a substantial loss for an elder person. It may result in the elder having to
go without food, medication, or possibly his or her apartment.
Neglect is the failure to provide for the care and treatment or safety of an elder
or fulfill any part of a person's obligations or duties to an elder. Neglect also
means the failure to provide necessities of life or comfort to the elder. The following
- poor personal hygiene
- signs of overmedication, undermedication, and/or misuse of medication
- incontinent elder dressed in soiled clothing
- elder left alone and deprived of stimulation and affection
Self-neglect is the failure of an elder to care for her or himself. This usually
occurs in the context of not providing for one's own basic needs and personal hygiene.
In addition to the abuse that elderly persons are subject to by relatives and/or
caretakers in their homes or in institutions, they may also become targets for criminal
victimization. Contrary to popular assumptions that elderly citizens are disproportionately
victims of crime as a result of their physical limitations, in reality, they are
the least victimized age group. Yet, further examination does reveal that elderly
persons may be subject to more severe crimes, and that they are more fearful of
crime; thus the consequences of victimization are often more detrimental.
The low victimization rate for elderly persons may be explained by their lifestyles,
which limit the amount of time they spend out in the evening and their contact with
likely offenders. However, this does not safeguard them from becoming victims of
serious crimes. Research indicates that personal larceny with contact (pocket-picking,
purse snatching), a significant and dangerous crime as it involves both theft and
personal contact, is the most common crime against elderly Americans. Robbery, inclusive
of both theft and assault, is second in frequency. In addition, the following are
further aspects that characterize the severity of crimes against the elderly:
- Elders are twice as likely as younger persons to be victimized in or near their
- Elders are more often victimized by offenders with weapons, including firearms.
- Elders are more likely than younger persons to be victims of violent crime perpetrated
- Elders suffer greater physical, psychological, and financial loss when victimized.
- Elders are more easily injured, heal more slowly, are less resilient emotionally,
and are less financially stable than younger victims.
As the number of aging Americans continues to increase, the abuse and victimization
of the elderly will become a national problem of even greater proportion. Learn
more about the effective crime prevention programs
which aid in the detection and prevention of elder abuse in our community.