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Health & Exercise Forum

ELDER ABUSE – Risk Factors and Interventions

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Oct 28, 2020

Part II of II

It is difficult to take care of a senior with many needs. The demands of care-giving can create situations in which abuse is more likely to occur. Even though many non-professional care-givers consider their role to be satisfying and enriching, the responsibilities can be extremely stressful. This stress can escalate, especially as the elder’s condition deteriorates, and can lead to mental and physical health problems causing caregivers to burn out, become impatient, and unable to restrain their frustration.

Among caregivers, significant risk factors for elder abuse are:

  • Inability to cope with stress (lack of resilience)
  • Depression, which is common among caregivers
  • Lack of support from other potential caregivers
  • The caregiver’s perception that taking care of the elder is burdensome and without psychological reward
  • Substance abuse

Even caregivers in institutional settings can experience stress at levels that can lead to elder abuse. Nursing home staff may be prone to elder abuse if they lack training, have too many responsibilities, are unsuited for care-giving, or work under poor conditions.

Several factors concerning the elders themselves, while they do not excuse abuse, influence whether they are at greater risk for abuse:

  • The intensity of an elder’s illness or dementia
  • Social isolation: the elder and caregiver are alone together almost all of the time
  • The elder’s role, at an earlier time, as an abusive parent or spouse
  • A history of domestic violence in the home
  • The elder’s own tendency toward verbal or physical aggression

In many cases, elder abuse, though real, is unintentional. Caregivers may be pushed beyond their capabilities or psychological resources.

You can protect yourself from elder abuse by:

  • Make sure your financial and legal affairs are in order. Obtain legal advice concerning arrangements for future disability (e.g. power of attorney).
  • Review your will periodically.
  • Arrange to have your social security check or pension check deposited directly into your bank account. 
  • Avoid becoming isolated. Keep in touch with family and friends. Participate in social and community activities.
  • Do not live with someone who has a history of violent behavior or substance abuse.
  • Do not sign a document unless someone you trust has reviewed it.
  • If you are unhappy with the care you are receiving, at home or in a facility, tell someone you trust.

Caregivers can prevent from becoming elder abusers by following some simple suggestions:

  • Request help from friends, relatives, or local respite agencies so you can take a break.
  • Find an adult day care program.
  • Stay healthy and get medical care for yourself when necessary.
  • Do not ignore your limitations and overextend yourself.
  • Adopt stress reduction practices.
  • Seek counseling for depression.
  • Find a support group for caregivers of the elderly.
  • If you are having problems with drug or alcohol abuse, get help.
  • Do not offer personal home care unless you thoroughly understand the demands and can meet the responsibility and costs involved.

Elder abuse help-lines offer help for caregivers as well. Call a helpline if you think there is a possibility that you might cross the line into elder abuse. (REPORT ELDER ABUSE: PA Dept of Aging 24 Hotline 1-800-490-8505)

If you suspect elder abuse, report it. Look at the elder’s medications to see if the amount left in the bottle is consistent with the dosing schedule and date of the prescription. Watch for possible financial abuse by asking the elder if you may scan financial documents for unauthorized transactions. Call and visit the elderly person as often as you can. Offer to stay with the elder so that the caregiver can have a break.  

Many seniors do not report abuse. Many are ashamed, feel responsible or fear retaliation from the abuser. Others believe that if they turn on their abusers, no one else will take care of them. If you are an elder who is being abused, neglected, or exploited, tell at least one person: your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you can trust. Every state has at least one toll-free elder abuse hotline or helpline for reporting elder abuse in the home, in the community, or in nursing homes and other long term care facilities. You can also call Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116. For those over the age of 60, help is available through local Area Agencies on Aging (AAA).