Elder Abuse In The Spotlight

By: Jody Smith

Aileen Wiglesworth, a gerontologist and assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, has been involved in studies that turned up new markers for elder abuse. She said that the first difficulty many elders who have been abused may run into is being believed. There is often an unfounded assumption in play that elders all have memory problems or suffer from dementia. This erodes their credibility and erodes the chances that they will get the help they need.

Many seniors who have been abused at the hands of family members or other people they care about, are conflicted about whether to make it known or not. They may be tempted to stay silent out of a misplaced desire to protect the abusers. They may feel guilty thinking they are a burden to their loved ones, and hold themselves responsible for any problems, rather than laying responsibility on the shoulders of the abuser.

There are differences between physical abuse and neglect but the results are both negative, and neglect can be harmful in its own right. Even the caregiver who is trying to do things right but who is not able either financially, physically or emotionally to do so, should be brought to account. Wiglesworth recommended the involvement of social services when caregivers are finding the job bigger than they can handle.

Wiglesworth emphasized that jailing and vilifying inadequate caregivers is not the goal. She works with law enforcement and medical examiners at the Elder Abuse Forensic Center in Orange County, Calif. She has offered training to the Center in the handling of elders who have suffered abuse.

According to Womenshealth.gov, the majority of elder abuse happens in a senior's home. Plenty of it can also happen in nursing homes and other care facilities. In these facilities, seniors are for the most part left alone with staff. If any staff members are abusers, discovery can be difficult.

Abusers of the elderly can be almost anyone, anywhere. In the dynamics of a person with more power dealing with someone with less power, when frustration arises trouble can also arise with it. Abusers won't necessarily look like any stereotype you've ever seen or read about. An abuser can be a professional caregiver, a relative, or partner. An abuser can be a doctor, lawyer, banker or accountant that has dealings with the senior. An abuser can be a stranger looking for an easy mark. A senior who is frail, unsteady, or uncertain can be an attractive target.

Have you, or someone you know, experienced elder abuse? Take it seriously, act on it by seeking help from supportive family or friends. Contact community organizations. Take advantage of counseling services. If there is evident or suspected physical damage, get a health care professional involved.

Jody Smith is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.

Sources:

Elder Abuse Emerges From the Shadows of Public Consciousness

http://www.nij.gov/journals/265/elder-abuse.htm

Healthy Aging

http://womenshealth.gov/aging/safety-abuse/elder-abuse.cfm

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