Elder abuse: A hidden epidemic

By Michael Yudell

The abuse of adults by their children, caretakers, or other trusted individuals, known commonly as elder abuse, is horrific and damaging. It can come in many forms — physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment — and affects both men and women.


Cases from around the country the past few years highlight a growing and underreported problem.

In 2009, for example, an Arizona man was arrested for dropping his 92-year-old father on a freeway margin near Flagstaff, on a 39-degree day. In Chicago, three siblings have been convicted of abusing their elderly mother. According to news reports, “when paramedics responded to a call at the residence … they reported that the woman was suffering from serious bedsores, was dehydrated and that her lower right leg had turned black from gangrene.” She had been left in the same chair for eight weeks; her leg was later amputated.

This isn't confined to families. It is estimated that the elderly lose $2.9 billion a year to financial fraud, which is also considered elder abuse. These victims tend to be women in their 80s, and suffer from at least some mild cognitive impairment. A 2001 Congressional Report documented that nearly one-third of all nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been cited for elder abuse. In a Valencia, Calif. case, caretakers at a facility allegedly left an 89-year-old woman on an unshaded patio in at temperatures above 100 degrees last year, leading to her death.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse at the U.S. Administration on Aging, this is a growing problem that remains poorly understood. Some studies have estimated that as much as 5 percent of elderly Americans have been victimized. Elderly people who are socially isolated and mentally impaired are at greater risk, but more research is needed to improve our understanding of this complex problem.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Corbett proclaimed June 15 “Elder Abuse Awareness Day in Pennsylvania.” “Elder abuse is a growing problem throughout the state, country and world,” says Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Brian Duke. More than 18,000 cases were reported in the state last year, and 40 percent were subsequently confirmed. “Our highest priority is protecting vulnerable older adults from abuse and making others aware of the signs of neglect, abuse, and exploitation,” Duke said.

If you are concerned that someone you know might be a victim of elder abuse and is in life-threatening danger, or if you are a victim yourself, call the police or 911 immediately. If the danger is not immediately life-threatening, you should still report it, either to the police or to your local adult protective services. To confidentially report elder abuse Pennsylvania, call 1-800-490-8505. For contacts in other states, clck on the Eldercare Locator at the National Center on Elder Abuse, or call at 1-800-677-1116. You might be saving a life.

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