Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, financial abuse and neglect. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60 and over have experienced some form of elder abuse. In California, a state with a significant aging population, the problem is particularly pressing.
The state’s Department of Justice reports that they actively investigate tens of thousands of elder abuse cases annually, yet many cases remain unreported. To understand why elder abuse remains pervasive today requires a closer look at the contributing factors.
Individual risk factors
Individual differences among people influence how likely they are to engage in such harmful behaviors. Some people have a greater predisposition toward inflicting abuse and neglect than others because of these differences or risk factors. For example, someone who experienced abuse in the past or a person struggling with substance addiction is more likely to hurt others.
Caring for an elderly person, especially one with dementia or chronic health issues, can be incredibly stressful. The lack of adequate and qualified staff can cause occupational burnout. Without proper support or respite care, caregivers may become overwhelmed, which can sadly lead to instances of abuse or neglect.
Elders often depend on others for basic needs, making them susceptible to exploitation. Abusers may take advantage of this trust and reliance for personal gain, particularly in cases of financial abuse.
Many seniors live alone or away from their loved ones. They may have a guardian or designated caregiver looking after their daily needs. Another possibility is that their family admitted them to a nursing home. In both cases, they do not reside with their loved ones. Isolation can make them more vulnerable to abuse, as there are fewer people to notice and report signs of mistreatment.
Lack of awareness and training
Individuals who interact with seniors may not be able to recognize and report signs of abuse because they do not have the proper training. The average person is not well-equipped to detect malnutrition or dehydration.
Family members look to caregivers, nursing homes and long-term care facilities to help them provide the best available care to their elderly loved ones. They spend good money to ensure their elderly loved one receive quality care. However, these are the very people perpetuating the abuse. While these factors contribute to elder abuse, they do not justify it. Fortunately, legal options are available to those who want to recover justice for the harm their elderly loved ones suffered.