According to statistics and surveys, as many as 2 million seniors are abused, exploited, or neglected every year, in their own homes and in care facilities. Experts say there could be many more. Research indicates that one in 10 seniors have suffered some form of abuse at least once.
With 74 million baby boomers in the population, the number of Americans age 65 and over is projected to nearly double by 2030, making elder abuse an increasingly urgent concern, the Associated Press (AP) reports. Sharon Merriman-Nai, project director of the Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect of the Elderly, based at the University of Delaware says, “It’s a huge issue, and it’s just going to get bigger.”
Experts say it’s difficult to get accurate numbers because abuse is varied and many cases go unreported. Complicating the problem, the AP says, is that most abuse comes at the hands of relatives. Victims are often embarrassed, possibly confused about events, afraid of repercussions, or afraid of being cut off from family if they report abuse.
While great strides have been made in recognizing and dealing with child abuse, the same is not true for elder abuse. Some older people are physically mistreated or their needs are neglected. They don’t receive proper nutrition or medications and signs and symptoms of illness are often ignored. Some are bullied or neglected by caregivers, others have little or no social interaction.
Elderly people are frequently the target of financial scams; many are taken advantage of by relatives and caregivers. Older adults are often overcharged for services. Relatives who have access to an older person’s home and money sometimes steal possessions and drain bank accounts. The cost of elder abuse is high, warns Joy Solomon, a former assistant prosecutor in Manhattan. Elderly people who might remain healthy, independent, and financially stable instead find themselves without resources and in precarious circumstances.
Many social service agencies do not have the staff or budget to investigate reports of abuse, let alone routinely check on vulnerable older adults, the AP report explains. Joy Solomon urges that steps be taken to increase public awareness of the problems and recommends training for police and others in the criminal justice system to help them recognize the often-subtle signs of abuse. In addition, communities need to provide emergency and long-term shelter facilities that can appropriately serve an older, more fragile population.