What is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse includes various types of abuse by another person or entity, in any setting, either in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust and/or when an older person is targeted based on age or disability.  Elder abuse includes:

  • Neglect
  • Physical Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Financial Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse

Why does elder abuse occur?

Many social factors—for example, a lack of support services and community resources—can make conditions ripe for elder abuse. Ageism (biases against or stereotypes about older people that keep them from being fully a part of their community) or social isolation also play a role in enabling elder abuse. By changing these contributing factors, we can prevent elder abuse and make sure all of us have the opportunity to thrive as we age.

What are the signs and symptoms of abuse?

Older people who experience abuse often experience more than one type of abuse. In addition to an older person’s report of abuse or neglect, the signs and symptoms include:

  • Physical abuse – Signs to look for include bruises, broken bones, over- or under-medicating, or not allowing visitors to see the elder alone.
  • Sexual abuse – Signs of sexual abuse are bruises around breasts or genital area, STDs, unexplained bleeding, torn, stained, or bloody underclothing.
  • Emotional abuse – Characteristic signs are being emotionally upset or agitated, extremely withdrawn and non-communicative or non-responsive, or unusual behavior (e.g. sucking, biting, rocking, etc.)
  • Neglect – Neglect is defined as a failure to fulfill one’s obligations or duties to provide care to an elder adult. Common signs of neglect are poor hygiene, pressure sores, malnutrition, dehydration, medication errors, and unsafe or unclean living conditions.
  • Financial Exploitation – Financial abuse or exploitation is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property or assets. To identify financial exploitation of an older person, watch for sudden changes in bank account activity or bank practices including withdrawal of large sums of money, adding names to accounts, unauthorized withdrawal of funds using an ATM card, abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents, quick deeding their home to another person, unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions, substandard care being provided, or bills unpaid.

It is up to all of us to learn these signs and symptoms of abuse and report concerns to Adult Protective Services (APS) who can investigate allegations. Call 888-APS-TENN.

How big of a problem is elder abuse?

Elder abuse affects communities on many levels, from pubic health to civic participation to economic resources. For our communities to thrive, we need everyone in them to thrive too. Contrary to popular belief, elder abuse is a significant problem. Tennessee Adult Protective Services (APS), the investigative state agency, received close to 2,000 referrals for elder abuse in 2012 for just Shelby County, Tennessee – 30% are substantiated cases. However, elder abuse is underreported.

The costs of elder abuse are high for the affected individuals and society alike. Older people’s losses can be tangible (their homes and life savings) and intangible (their dignity, independence, and possibly their lives). For society, elder abuse is both a social and economic issue: it creates health care and legal costs, which are often shouldered by public programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and reduces older people’s participation in the life of the community. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s interest to prevent and address elder abuse.

Why don’t people report elder abuse?

People who experience elder abuse may be embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid. Almost 90% of elder abuse cases are attributable to family members, and victims don’t want to get them in trouble. It’s also possible that someone may be using threatening behavior to exert control over an older adult.