Awareness of elder abuse as a social problem has increased in recent years because of attention to the identification of those who are likely to be abused. As the elderly population in the United States and around the world increases, a greater number will be dependent on others for their care. By 2010 approximately 46.6 percent of the aged will be 75 years of age or over. Also by 2050, more than 55 percent of the aged are projected to be 75 years of age or older.
Elder Abuse Definition and Classifications
Broadly defined, elder abuse is the adverse commission or omission of acts against an elderly person. Elder abuse can assume varied forms, including physical, psychological, financial, and sexual abuse as well as neglect.
Physical abuse is the nonaccidental infliction of physical force that results in body injury, pain, or impairment. Physical abuse acts include bruising, punching, restraining, sexually molesting, or force-feeding.
Psychological or emotional abuse is any willful conduct that causes mental or emotional anguish. Examples include verbal or nonverbal insults, intimidating, humiliating, isolating, or threatening harm.
Financial or material abuse refers to the unauthorized or improper exploitation of funds, property, assets, or any resources of an older person. Such acts include stealing money, changing will content, or cashing the elder’s social security check.
Sexual abuse involves nonconsensual sexual or intimate contact or exposure of any kind with an older person. Family members, institutional employees, and friends can commit sexual abuse.
Neglect is the deliberate failure or refusal of a caretaker to fulfill his or her obligation to provide for the elder person’s basic needs. Examples include denial of food, clothing, or health care items such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, or false teeth; abandoning the elderly for long periods; and preventing safe housing.
Self-abuse or self-neglect is abusive or neglectful behavior of an older person directed at himself or herself that compromises or threatens his or her health or safety. Self-abuse mostly results from the elder person’s failure or inability to provide for his or her basic needs, despite being considered legally competent.
Sources of Elder Abuse
Major sources of elder abuse can be categorized as institutional, societal, and familial.
Institutional sources would be intentional or unintentional adverse actions and negative attitudes from professionals, such as workers in nursing homes, physicians, nurses, psychologists, and social workers. Institutional abuses are activities that are not in the best interest of the elderly.
Societal sources are thinking of old age in negative ways, stereotypes, discrimination, and ageism. Society has contributed to the transformation of aging from a natural process into a social problem. Elders can be, for example, targets of job discrimination when seeking employment and promotion.
Familial sources involve families and may be referred to as domestic elder abuse. Familial elder abuse results from increased levels of stress and frustration among caregivers. Caregivers with substance abuse problems and limited resources frequently face problems in caring for older members and have higher rates of abuse.
- Chima, Felix O. 1998. “Familial, Institutional, and Societal Sources of Elder Abuse: Perspective on Empowerment.” International Review of Modern Sociology 28(1):103-16.
- Chima, Felix O. 2003. “Age Discrimination in the Workplace and Human Rights Implications.” Journal of Intergroup Relations 30:3-19.
- Tatara, Toshio. 1995. “Elder Abuse.” Encyclopedia of Social Work, 19th ed., edited by R. L. Edwards. Atlanta, GA: NASW Press.
- S. Census Bureau. 2007. “Statistical Abstract of the United States.” Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
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