A newly released report by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) is sounding the alarm on an insidious phenomenon it calls a "virtual epidemic" across the country: elder abuse. With the continued expansion of the senior citizen demographic in America, elder abuse is a threat to our communities that will only grow in the future.
As it stands, the NEJM study found that at least 10% of senior citizens in the United States had experienced elder abuse, a figure its authors note is well below the actual number of cases. Elder abuse is known to be under-reported due to a variety of reasons: isolation, shame, confusion, or a misguided wish to protect abusers from prosecution. Family members, the study confirms, are unfortunately the most frequent perpetrators of elder abuse. The Journal's research also identified a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood of elder abuse, including age range ("younger" senior citizens are especially vulnerable), shared living environment (from a home with multiple relatives to a care facility, where the greatest danger comes from fellow residents), and income scale (lower income means a higher chance of abuse).
Elder abuse itself isn't just one type of crime, either; it encompasses a wide spectrum of wrongdoing, from physical abuse and neglect to emotional manipulation, fraud, and financial exploitation. We're facing a multifaceted threat that not only harms our elderly loved ones, but also our families, communities, and economy. Multiple studies, for example, have established that elder financial abuse wreaks anywhere from $3 to 36 billion in damage to our economy every year.
With such a daunting challenge in front of us, what's the best way to fight elder abuse? The experts behind the NEJM article propose the simplest, most effective solution possible: teamwork. Professionals from several fields can join forces and act to prevent elder abuse or at the very least stop it in its early stages. This means that doctors, lawyers, financial advisors and bank employees, and caregivers should all organize initially informal networks of support to shield the elderly from predators and their schemes.
The NEJM is write to point out the necessity of cooperation across professional spheres in combatting elder abuse. A good system of communication is crucial when it comes to defeating those who would exploit our senior citizens, and the more specialists from several disciplines collaborate to protect their clients and patients, the less opportunity wrongdoers will have to perpetrate their crimes.