“I thought it such a shame that our culture had not devised a way to defang old age. A sophisticated civilization wouldn’t ridicule senility, it would elevate it, worship it, wouldn’t it? We would train ourselves to see poetry in the nonsense of dementia, to actually look forward to becoming so untethered from the world”— Timothy Schaffert, American Author, in The Coffins of Little Hope.
Today, June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Elder abuse is an under recognized problem with devastating and even life-threatening consequences in our society.
How big is the problem? According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, more than one in ten elders may experience some type of abuse. However, only one in five cases or fewer are actually reported.
A definition? The broad term “elder abuse” generally refers to intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that leads to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder person. It can cover such situations as physical abuse; neglect; emotional of psychological abuse; verbal abuse and threats; financial abuse and exploitation; sexual abuse and abandonment.
Federal definitions of elder abuse first appeared in the 1987 Amendments to the Older Americans Act, however, these definitions are guidelines. Each state defines elder abuse according to its unique statutes and regulations, and definitions vary from state to state. Researchers also use varying definitions to describe and study the problem.
On Monday, the American College of Physicians released a study showing the frequency of resident-to-resident mistreatment in nursing homes. The study was conducted over one month in urban and suburban nursing homes in New York. Researchers found that, conservatively, one in five nursing home residents are the victims of abuse by other residents. Rates of abuse are significantly higher when nurse aides have a higher caseload and in dementia units. Most of the abuse was verbal, but there were significant percentages of abuse that involved hitting (11.3%) or pushing (10.3%) and a smaller percent that were sexual.
Less than one percent of the cases of resident on resident abuse were recorded in nursing homes’ medical records and none were recorded in an incident report. This is despite the fact that the researchers found that the majority of abuse took place in the facility’s dining room, activity room or common area.
These are horrifying, pervasive problems. What can you and I do?
Report it: If you suspect that someone you know might be experiencing abuse, report your concerns. Remember, most abuse cases are never reported. Do not assume that someone has already reported a suspicious situation. YOU do NOT need to prove that abuse is occurring; it is up to the professionals to investigate reported suspicions.
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging Office to identify local programs and sources of support for vulnerable, elderly neighbors and friends, such as Meals on Wheels. These programs help the elderly to maintain health, well-being and independence – all good defenses against abuse.
Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer: There are many local opportunities to become involved in programs that provide assistance and support for seniors.
To learn more about the issue, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website – www.ncea.aoa.gov