Elder Abuse—A Silent Pandemic Elder abuse is a silent pandemic transcending societal and geographic
Elder Abuse—A Silent Pandemic
Elder abuse is a silent pandemic transcending societal and geographical borders. Compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and an aging population, the prevalence of elder abuse has increased. Reports show that 1 in 6 people aged 60 and older have experienced some form of abuse in the community, and in the United States, 1 in 10 older adults experience abuse in the home. Elder abuse robs seniors of their dignity, security, and in some cases, their lives. This article explores the tip of the elder abuse iceberg, identifying risk factors, joint types, prevention tips, and the nurse's
role in prevention.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is an intentional act, or a failure to act, that produces a risk of harm to an adult age 60 or older. The abuse typically occurs at the hands of a partner, caregiver, or any person the elder adult trusts. Risk factors for victims of elder abuse include those with functional
dependence, poor physical health, cognitive impairment, poor mental health, and low-income status. Social isolation is another known risk factor for elder abuse. Unfortunately, even in the best of times, elder abuse cases are rarely detected, with only 1 in 24 cases identified and appropriately reported.
Types of Elder Abuse
There are several types of elder abuse. A universal warning sign that may indicate elder abuse is a sudden change in the overall pattern of an older adult's behavior or any abuse reported by the older adult. Here is an abbreviated breakdown of six elder abuse types and associated signs and symptoms.
Physical abuse is the cause of bodily harm by physical force such as pushing, slapping, or
hitting. Physical abuse can also include restraining older adults against their will. Signs and
symptoms of physical abuse may include bruises, fractures, broken bones, open wounds,
untreated injuries, broken eyeglasses/frames, laboratory findings of a medication overdose, or under-utilization of prescribed drugs.
Sexual abuse involves touching, fondling, intercourse, or any other sexual activity with an older adult, when the older adult is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened, or
physically forced. Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse may include bruising around the breasts
or genitals, unexplained venereal diseases, genital infections, and vaginal or anal bleeding.
Other signs include changes in an older adult's demeanor, including fear or withdrawal when a specific person is around.
Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, includes verbal assaults, threats of
abuse, harassment, or intimidation. Emotional abuse also keeps the older adult from seeing close family or friends. Signs and symptoms of emotional abuse may include being emotionally upset, extremely withdrawn, non-communicative, or non-responsive. In addition, the adult may display unusual behavior, such as sucking, biting, and rocking, or experience a
change in sleeping patterns or eating habits.
Financial abuse is the illegal or improper use of an elder adult's funds, property, or assets.
Indications of financial abuse can include sudden changes in bank accounts or banking
practices, including additional names on an older adult's bank signature card. Unexplained disappearance of funds, valuable possessions, or any abrupt changes to financial documents
are also signs of financial abuse.
Neglect is a failure or refusal to fulfill any part of one's obligations or duties to an older adult.
Obligations may include fulfilling physical, emotional, and social needs. Signs of neglect may include malnutrition, dehydration, untreated pressure injuries, unattended health problems, and poor personal hygiene.
Abandonment is the desertion of the elderly adult by the individual responsible for providing care. Desertion of an older adult can occur at a hospital, a nursing facility, or other care settings in the form of unsanitary or unaddressed hazardous living conditions. Abandonment can also
include leaving the adult at a shopping center or public location.
Preventing Elder Abuse
Educating seniors, professionals, caregivers, and the public on abuse is critical to prevention.
June 15th, dubbed World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, is a day to bring awareness and provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of the abuse and neglect of older persons. Senior living facilities can provide education to their staff and residents and caregivers. Staying engaged with your senior living community is a great way to mitigate and prevent abuse. Preventative measures do not need to be boring! One facility took to social media and participated in the #CLICKELDERLYABUSETOTHECURB challenge.
Educating staff and family while engaging residents is a great way to actively learn and bring awareness to a critical issue.
Seniors taking an active role in their care is another way to prevent elder abuse and foster
independence. Tips for seniors from the National Center for Aging to prevent elder abuse
include the following:
● Take care of and be an active participant in your health.
● Seek professional help for drug, alcohol, and depression concerns.
● Decrease social isolation by staying active in your community. Connect with family and
● Do not give out personal information over the phone.
● Have your own phone.
● Review your will periodically.
● Know your rights.
Role of the Nurse in Elder Abuse
Healthcare providers have mandated reporters for suspected elder abuse. Nurses, often on the front line of patient care, are responsible for recognizing the types of abuse and how to mitigate the outcomes regardless of the care setting. By 2034, it is anticipated that older Americans will outnumber children, and by 2040 the number of adults aged 65 and older is expected to climb to 80 million. With the growing population, there is an urgent need for providers dedicated to the care of the adult population to increase. Nurses who enjoy caring for the adult and elderly populations have a great opportunity to advance their careers as adult-gerontology nurse practitioners. As the aging population continues to grow, so does the need for specialized providers.
List of references:
The National Council on Aging. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/get-the-facts-on-elder-abuse U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Elder abuse. National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/elder-abuse
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, June 2). Fast facts: Preventing elder abuse violence prevention|injury Center|CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/fastfact.html
Phelan, A. (2018, September 10).
The role of the nurse in detecting elder abuse and neglect:
Current PE: NRR. Nursing: Research and Reviews. Retrieved from
Bridget Carey MSN, RN, CWCN
Bridget is a Registered Nurse, educator, and freelance health content writer. She specializes in elevating content and copy for health and wellness companies and entrepreneurs. When she’s not writing, Bridget can be found dancing with her toddler, stealing a naptime workout, or enjoying some coffee and a book at the Jersey Shore.