Adult Abuse & Neglect

Older Adult Abuse and Neglect Issues

Abuse and neglect of older adults can be related to the stresses of caregiving. Federal definitions of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation first appeared in the 1987 Amendments to the Older Americans Act. Legislatures in all 50 states have passed elder abuse prevention laws. In most states, elder abuse is considered a crime. Certain emotional abuse and neglect cases are subject to criminal prosecution. Self-neglect, however, is not a crime in all jurisdictions.

Categories of Elder Abuse

Domestic elder abuse is the mistreatment of an older person by someone who has a special relationship with the elder (spouse, sibling, child, friend, or caregiver) in the older person’s home or in the home of the caregiver.

Institutional abuse is the mistreatment of an older person who lives in a residential family (e.g., as paid caregivers, staff, or professionals) to provide the elder victim with care and protection.

The behavior of some older adults themselves threatens their health or safety. This situation, called self-neglect, includes such activities as refusing or failing to acquire adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medication, or safety precautions.

How to Spot Abuse

Abuse can take many forms: physical abuse, the use of physical force resulting in pain, injury, or impairment; sexual abuse, nonconsensual sexual contact of any kind; and emotional or psychological abuse, the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. Furthermore, abuse can occur through neglect, the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of one’s obligation or duty to seniors, or abandonment, the desertion of an elderly person by individuals with responsibility for providing care. Last, families should be watchful for financial or material exploitations, the illegal or improper use of a senior’s funds, property, or assets.

Here are the major signs and symptoms of abuse:

  • Dehydration, malnutrition, untreated medical conditions, or poor personal hygiene
  • Hazardous or unsafe living conditions (no indoor plumbing, no heat, no running water, improper wiring, etc.)
  • Unsanitary or unclean living quarters (animal or insect infestation, no functioning toilet, fecal or urine smell)
  • Inappropriate or inadequate clothing; lack of necessary medical aids such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, or dentures
  • Grossly inadequate housing or homelessness
  • Sudden changes in a will or other financial documents
  • Sudden changes in bank account (withdrawal of large sums by a person accompanying the elder)
  • Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
  • Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming rights to an elder’s affairs and possessions
  • Writing checks for unnecessary or inappropriate provisions

If you or others suspect elder abuse, contact your state Adult Protective Services (APS) agency to investigate. (Note: The APS agency provides services only if the adult agrees or has been declared incapacitated by the court and a guardian has been appointed).

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.