According to the Department of Health and Human Services Center on Elder Abuse, the problem is large in scale but hard to track - and it's only going to grow due to a projected increase in the elderly population over the coming decades. By 2050, it's projected, people 65 years and older will compose 20% of the US population, up from the 13% recorded in the 2010 federal census.
Much of the difficulty in coming to grips with elder abuse derives from severe under-reporting of cases. According to recent studies, approximately one in ten senior citizens has reported abuse that was non-financial in nature, but the actual overall incidence of mistreatment and exploitation is thought to be much greater. Elder abuse is a hidden phenomenon due to a number of reasons. The first of these is isolation: victims are often kept from any extensive contact from the outside world by their abusers for the purpose of control. It is also the case that victims themselves will not report their abuse from feelings of shame, embarrassment or confusion, with dementia patients more vulnerable to manipulation, fraud and even violence.
And finally, given that around 90% of these actions are perpetrated by family members, it's that much harder to for senior citizens to speak out against those who are taking advantage of them. Here are some red flags to spot if you suspect a case of elder abuse when a senior citizen you know becomes:
- More withdrawn and isolated than normal.
- Malnourished, has unexplained bruises or declining hygiene.
- More secretive about finances (they might be the victim of check fraud or an investment scam).
The great tragedy of elder abuse is that so much of it could be avoided if respect and love for elders were actually a value that had meaning in our society. Let's remember to honor our mother and father, as well as all seniors, and make elder abuse a rarer occurrence in our communities.