Elder abuse is a tragic phenomenon in which members of the older population are physically or emotionally abused and/or financially exploited. Abuse includes any form of neglect, abandonment, sexual abuse or any other situation that causes harm to an individual. Statistics show that elder abuse is committed most often by family members. However, it is also prevalent in nursing homes, adult day cares and hospitals. It is estimated that over five million Americans have suffered from elder abuse.
Like children, the elderly are often very vulnerable. Medical conditions that render sufferers incapable of fully caring for themselves, and impaired decision making and communication, place seniors at risk for elder abuse. Dementia, for example, can be frustrating to caregivers, causing them to lash out and inflict harm on the elderly. A history of domestic abuse can also worsen as the victim ages and becomes more defenseless.
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There are many reasons why domestic elder abuse happens. A caregiver's emotional state can have a big impact on the quality of care that they are able to provide. Impatience, resentment, depression or an aggressive personality can exacerbate the tremendous stress that caring for another creates. A lack of knowledge of proper health care or general ignorance can also be a source of neglect or abandonment, and hence a contributing factor in elder abuse.
In professional institutions, the same factors that contribute to domestic elder abuse can exist. In addition, poor management issues such as overcrowding and unqualified staff can contribute to the abuse of the elderly. The compromised heath and mental faculties of an older person can hinder the likelihood that elder abuse will be reported by the victim. Some abusers take advantage of this condition, assuming that they will not be caught.
Signs of elder abuse may or may not be obvious. Most obvious, in the case of physical abuse, is the appearance of unexplained bruising, bed sores, a lack of basic hygiene or any injury or ailment that can not be medically explained. Exploitation is often marked by a sudden decrease in financial security. The less obvious signs of elder abuse may be depression, isolation or an increase in disagreements and belittling by caregivers.