How to Protect Ourselves and Our Loved Ones from Elder Abuse
It’s time to talk about something that may make many of us very uncomfortable. In fact, we may become so uncomfortable that we may rather ignore – or at least minimize – the issue. I am talking about elder abuse.
Yes, it is an unpleasant topic. But no matter how unpleasant – or how much we may want to believe that people, and especially family members, would never do such a thing – we need to recognize that elder abuse affects an estimated 10 percent of older adults over age 60.
I say estimated since most experts believe many cases of abuse are not even reported.
The Problem of Elder Abuse Is Especially Acute Among Boomer Women
How big is the problem? Well, the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 70 percent of elder abuse victims are women. If we happen to live in some type of care facility, we have a 21 percent risk of being abused.
This risk increases to around 33 percent if we are disabled. We also are far more likely to be sexually abused than men – six times more likely, in fact. Sexual abuse of boomer women occurs more often in care facilities.
These are incredibly alarming statistics!
Why we are at greater risk than men is not very surprising. We may be seen as easier targets for physical, financial, emotional, and sexual abuse; we tend to develop diseases which may take us longer to recover from; and, since we tend to live longer than men, we often live alone.
In addition to physical abuse – which tends to be the most readily recognizable – elder abuse also refers to emotional abuse, exploitation, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, involuntary confinement, passive neglect, willful deprivation of needed nourishment and medicines, and financial abuse.
And, neglecting our own care for whatever reason also qualifies as a form of elder abuse. Of all the abuse types, financial abuse seems to be the one most commonly reported.
The impact of elder abuse is devastating. By some estimates, elders who have been abused have a three-fold increased risk of death compared to their contemporaries who have not suffered abuse. Financially, conservative estimates put the cost of financial abuse at over $35 billion annually.
Abusers Are Usually Family Members
No matter which form of elder abuse we’re talking about, in more than half – almost 60 percent – of cases, abusers are family members. Two-thirds of these are adult children or spouses.
When it comes to financial abuse, it most probably is a family member taking advantage of an elderly parent or relative. How do they justify this abuse?
Many tell themselves “I am just enjoying my inheritance now instead of later,” or “I’m sure Mom or Dad wouldn’t mind” (this would be especially true if mom or dad suffers from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or some other cognitive impairment).
After financial abuse, the most common abuse committed by family members is emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse.
Even more concerning is that elders may be subject to more than one type of abuse by any given family member. For example, a family member may be skimming a parent’s bank account while also verbally abusing them.
Other abusers include those who are charged with making sure we are safe and protected. These include the staff at nursing and assisted living facilities as well as in-home caregivers.
There is another type of financial abuse which we, as boomer women, may be especially susceptible to.
This is healthcare fraud abuse where unethical and unscrupulous healthcare providers may bill insurance and Medicare for services we have not received, overmedicate us, or recommend and charge for procedures or tests we may not need.
How do we Protect Ourselves and Our Loved Ones?
Despite these grim statistics, there are many things that we can do to better protect ourselves and our loved ones from elder abuse. These include:
It’s important to make sure we are getting the nutrition we need as we age. When we are nutritionally balanced, we increase the likelihood of remaining physically and mentally fit. Remember that our nutritional needs change as we get older, so be sure to have your nutritional levels checked periodically.
You also need to do some form of physical activity. One of the easiest and most effective is walking. Of course, you many enjoy dancing, which is good too.
One of the biggest risk factors for abuse is living alone and/or isolation. Join a local club, visit the senior center, and stay active and connected. Even video calling with family and friends is better than sitting alone at home. Plus, it’s a lot more fun.
Another thing you can do is agree with your friends that you will call each other every day or so just to check in, say “hello,” and see how things are going.
Be Skeptical and Take Precautions
While you may want to assume that people always have the best intentions, unfortunately, that is not the case. So, protect yourself and your assets by:
- Not providing any personal information over the phone;
- Arranging to have your pension or social security checks direct deposited to your bank account;
- Opening your own mail;
- Setting up a living will or power of attorney to make sure your wishes are followed if you fall ill;
- Adding your phone number to the national Do Not Call Registry to reduce calls from telemarketers (just call 1-888-381-1222 or visit www.donotcall.gov);
- Shredding your bank statements or credit card receipts before throwing them out.
If you’re in a nursing home or receive home-care services, remember that you are the client, and you have the absolute right to tell them what you want and need. If you are unable to or feel uncomfortable doing so, a trusted friend or family member could help.
How to Recognize Elder Abuse and Where to Get Help
While elder abuse may be hard to detect, there are some indications which may suggest that something is off. You may notice these with friends or family and, conversely, they may notice them as well if you are the victim of abuse and are not in a position to report it (for whatever reason). These include:
- Unexpected, unexplained, or unexplainable injuries such as broken bones, bruises (black and blue marks) or vaginal/anal bleeding;
- Unusual weight loss or dehydration; malnutrition;
- Marked decrease in personal hygiene;
- Wearing clothes that don’t correspond to climate or season;
- Unexpected bank withdrawals, changes to wills, or missing property.
If you are suffering abuse or suspect a friend or family member is, the first step is to report it. Of course, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
If there is no immediate danger, the best thing to do is to call your local Adult Protective Services, Long-term Care Ombudsman, or police. You can also call the National Center on Elder Abuse at 1-855-500-3537.
Do you worry about elder abuse, either of yourself or a loved one? Have you or anyone you know been subjected to elder abuse? Did you report it or what did you do to protect yourself or your loved one? What steps do you currently take to protect yourself or your loved ones from elder abuse? Please join the conversation.