With our ever growing aging population, crimes against older adults are increasing and becoming more widespread. Since 2010, the senior population (65 and over) has increased 30% compared to an overall population growth of only 12%. This sharp increase in population, coupled with the vulnerable nature of this victim group, yields hundreds of thousands of older adults who are abused, neglected and exploited each year. Many of these older victims are frail, cannot fully care for themselves and are forced to depend on others to often meet their basic needs.
Abusers of older adults are both men and women, family, friends and service providers. They are often known and trusted by their victims and sometimes include adult children, grandchildren and other caregivers. Those who exploit seniors often gain their trust and then steal their money, swindle their assets and leave them unable to pay their bills, buy their medicine and purchase the most basic provisions.
Is Elder Abuse a Crime?
While all 50 states in the U.S. and some countries have implemented some type of law to protect older adults and punish those who prey on them, those laws vary greatly. In the United States, the 1987 Amendments to the Older Americans Act provide federal definitions and guidelines but each state has modified those to address the specifics of their statutes and regulations. Generally, they cover physical, emotional and sexual abuse; neglect, including self-neglect; and, exploitation. Many states have enacted several laws that address abuse of the elderly and other states have increased penalties when the victim of crime is an older adult.
While in most states self-neglect is not a criminal offense, caregiver neglect can rise to that level. Self-neglect statistically ranks the highest among reports to APS, and tragically, self-neglect often leads to both injury and illness. Early intervention can often address the problem and connect the older adult with community resources to help. The following behaviors may indicate self-neglect:
- Hoarding of objects, especially if the safety of the individual or other household/community members is threatened
- Failure to provide adequate food and nutrition
- Failure to take essential medications
- Refusal to seek medical treatment
- Poor hygiene
- Not wearing suitable clothing for the weather
- Inability to attend to housekeeping
Who is at risk?
Elder abuse, like many other crimes, is extremely complex. While there is no exclusive list of factors that pinpoint potential victims, studies have ferreted out risk factors associated with elder abuse. Generally, studies identify numerous factors that can be present alone or combine with each other. These factors include the physical, social, economic and mental condition of the victim.
Older adults who live alone or are socially isolated fall prey to abusers. However, older adults who live with a caregiver are also victims of elder abuse because that caregiver often has exclusive interaction with and control of the older adult and their finances. When an older adult lives with someone else, but is isolated from the larger community, their neighbors, church and even other family members, they are easier targets for elder abuse and exploitation. Dementia, other cognitive impairments and disabilities also place elders at a greater risk of abuse and neglect.
What can I do?
Be aware of possible abuse. One of the best ways to deter abuse, and to catch it early, is to communicate. Stay in contact with your elderly family member, friends and neighbors. Maintaining communication will decrease isolation, give you an opportunity to find out what is going on in their lives and give them an opportunity to share with you.
If you suspect abuse: Report It.
If you believe someone is in immediate danger, call the local police.