Common Types of Elder Abuse & How to Prevent Them

The statistics on elder abuse are startling. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that 1 in 10 Americans aged 60 or older has experienced some form of elder abuse. This results in five million older Americans being abused each year.

Elder abuse, which the NCOA calls a "silent problem," can lead to long-term physical and psychological issues. Not to mention victims of financial abuse suffer an annual loss of at least $36.5 billion. (Yes, that's "billion" with a "b.")

Considering the rapidly aging population in both the U.S and globally, the rate of elder abuse will likely increase in many countries. (According to the World Health Organization, the global population of people 60 and older will double from 900 million in 2015 to two billion by 2050.)

Common types of elder abuse

When it comes to elder abuse, it can be a one-time act or long-term mistreatment. Common types include the following:

  • Physical abuse – abuse that causes physical pain or injury
  • Psychological abuse – also known as emotional abuse, this abuse occurs through verbal assaults or threats (or other forms, such as gaslighting and the silent treatment)
  • Sexual abuse – non-consensual sexual activity of any kind with an older adult (keeping in mind that in order to consent, someone must also be cognitively fit to do so)
  • Financial abuse/exploitation – illegal or improper use of the older person's money or assets
  • Neglect – failure to provide basic necessities like food, water, and medical care
    Abandonment – desertion of the older person by the caregiver who had taken responsibility for the person
  • Self-neglect - behavior that threatens a person's own health or safety

Source: National Center on Elder Abuse

Victims of elder abuse often can't advocate for themselves due to physical or mental impairments associated with aging, medical conditions, or both. They might not even be aware that they're being abused (this is common with psychological abuse and financial fraud). Or they might not fully understand what they're agreeing to (for example, handing over an ATM card). This suggests that the rate of elder abuse is likely underreported.

Sadly, elder abuse occurs at the hands of people who are supposed to be looking out for these vulnerable older adults. According to the NCOA, "two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses."

But the American Psychological Association also notes that "Unfortunately, institutional abuse of the elderly (i.e. hospitals, convalescent homes, and board-and-care homes) is also becoming a major concern, particularly since more families are unable to provide appropriate care for the elderly at home."

How to prevent elder abuse

Learn the signs and help raise awareness.

It's essential that everyone learns the signs of elder abuse. Each type of elder abuse has its own red flags:

  • Physical abuse – unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Psychological abuse – withdrawal (or a sudden increase in combativeness), depression, increased anxiety
  • Sexual abuse – sudden onset of STDs, bruising around the genitals
  • Financial abuse/exploitation – a sudden change in finances, unpaid bills
  • Neglect – bedsores, malnutrition, weight loss
  • Abandonment – desertion of the older person at a healthcare institution or at a public location, like the mall
  • Self-neglect – poor hygiene, inadequate housing, or homelessness

For a complete list of signs, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse.

Be an advocate for the older people in your life.

Stay in contact. Watch for signs. For close loved ones, help ensure that they are protected from financial exploitation.

Report suspected abuse.

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) recommends calling 911 for persons in imminent danger. Reporting suspected cases of elder abuse to appropriate local authorities is also a good next step. The NCEA has a list of resources for each state.

Recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

June 15 marks this important occasion, which provides an opportunity to raise awareness. Remember, everyone is impacted by elder abuse. (Plus, as we age, we could become potential victims ourselves.) It's in everyone's best interest to learn about this type of abuse and how to prevent it.

If you employ healthcare workers, know who you're hiring.

Because of the vulnerable populations they treat, healthcare workers should undergo thorough pre-employment background checks and ongoing monitoring.

  • Criminal background check. Know if someone has a history of assault or fraud, which are two of the biggest crimes perpetuated against elders. This is especially important if you hire home healthcare aides.
  • Drug/alcohol testing. Healthcare workers have access to powerful drugs. Not to mention, you want a worker who is sober and alert while caring for patients.
  • MVR check. This is important if your home healthcare aides ever transport patients via car (to a doctor appointment, for example).
  • Social media screening. Social media background checks provide insights beyond skills and training and help you glean a person's character.
  • Education and ID verifications. Make sure you're hiring the person you think you're hiring—and that their credentials and licenses are legit.

Doing a thorough pre-employment check and ongoing monitoring can help you not only prevent elder abuse, but also save your healthcare company from potential litigation.

Good Egg has the solutions that healthcare companies need to make great hires.

Whether you manage hiring for a home healthcare agency, nursing home, or hospital, we have the right background check solutions to help you hire the best workers for your open positions. Get in touch to set up a demo of our background screening programs.


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Mariah Barr

Posted by Mariah Barr

Mariah Barr is the Content Marketing Writer at Good Egg. She's played a few roles in her professional life, but they’ve always involved writing interesting and informative pieces. Outside of work you can find her walking her dog or working on a DIY home improvement project.

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