Elder Abuse: An Unthinkable Crime

ALENA HANSON Features & Opinions Editor

Elderly adults are sometimes ill-treated in their own homes, in their relatives’ care or in nursing home facilities.

The Administration on Aging’s website states that, “In general, elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”

Only two percent of victims of interpersonal violence are over the age of 65. Though this act of victimization is nowhere near as common as people think, the percentage should be zero. Many in the public believe this crime to be a new trend of the 21st century, but the mistreatment of the elderly has been going on since people could record accounts. Adult Protective Services’ earliest documentation of existence was dated back to the 1960s.

There have been several other programs in place to help those vulnerable individuals. Physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse are the three categories of how an older person beyond 65-years-old can be victimized. The purposeful use of force against an older individual that can result in impairment, injury or pain can be placed in the physical type of abuse. This would include, but is not limited to, hitting, punching, biting, restraints and the inappropriate use of drugs.

A former hospice CNA stated that they were told, as well as the nurses assigned to this particular nursing home, that they were to never physically retrain the elderly patients. “People would be tied to their wheelchairs by gauze,” Regina Cronier said. “It was sad to see, so I would cut the gauze and report it to my supervisors. Nothing ever was done about it. It happened over and over again.”

Nursing home nurses have also been known to leave patients alone for days on end, which causes bed sores. These wounds could be severe and cause pain. This type of pressure sores can be prevented by moving the person confined to a bed or wheelchair around and keeping the area dry. The lesions could become infected and cause permanent damage. She said that she would only visit the patients once or twice a week, but her patients usually had around the clock care. This can be said in a lot of facilities and private homes with elderly people that are in pretty bad shape. The nurses or attendants can also starve patients, neglecting a natural human need.

Elderly sexual abuse is the non-consensual act of sexual nature. The older adult may not even understand what is happening to them. They can be forced or threatened to do any of these acts. Elderly people can receive PTSD and/or STDs from rape or sexual misconduct. Like most rape cases, the act of it against an elderly is underreported.

Psychological abuse is the act of inflicting mental pain on another person. This can be caused by humiliation, saying hurtful words, threatening them, yelling at them or repeatedly neglecting to acknowledge the individual. Withholding the elderly patient’s right to see or talk to their family and friends is another form of mentally harming them.

“Actually, there was this little old patient that I had. She would carry a doll around and believed that it was her actual baby,” said Cronier. “She would coo at it and never let anyone touch it. However, for whatever reason, one of the nurses took the “child” and hid it. This caused the patient to rage and grieve, as if she really had lost her own child. Fortunately, another nurse saw the offender take it and reported it to the central officer.”

All of the before mentioned methods can cause mental distress, but if elderly people are involved, it can only increase it due to their withering minds.

An act of financial abuse is the act of stealing money or belongings from an individual. In the case of the elderly, financial exploitation, theft and fraud are prominent concerns. According to the NCEA, it is estimated that 1 in 5 of America’s elderly population have been a victim of a financial crime. Check forgery, checks, taking someone else’s Social Security benefits or using another person’s bank account or card to use as their own are all considered forms of financial abuse.

It also includes changing documents, such as changing names on a will or the title to a house, without permission from the older person. Financial abuse is some of the hardest information to be noticed or reported. Someone could be using an elderly person’s information from scams or offline. Healthcare fraud can also be a major issue amongst this age group. Doctors, nurses or other medical employees can charge for care that was not provided, steal information, or falsify hospital claims.

The victim’s grown child(ren), close family member(s), spouse and siblings are the most common in partaking in the abuse of the elderly. This could be caused by the long-term commitment or physical and mental exhaustion a caregiver can feel. Elderly people who have no family or friends nearby are likely to be targeted. People with disabilities, recollection difficulties or dementia are also common victims. Victims can be targeted on how dependent and frail they are. This means someone who relies on someone else for everyday activities, such as bathing, dressing, eating, and taking medicine, are almost sure to be targeted.

Georgia has a program called Elder Abuse and Protection. The program offers services to recognize, stop and treat elder abuse. It primarily focuses on neglect and exploitation. Many elder abuse victims do not understand it, do not know what to do about it or are too afraid to report it. The EAP hopes to draw awareness to older persons and provide services to victims. To view their website, visit georgia.gov.