Elder victims are usually physically or mentally frail. They are unable to defend themselves and are often unable or unwilling to report abuse. Abuse can take many forms, with emotional abuse being the most difficult to identity due to a lack of physical evidence. There are many possible causes of elder abuse. Regardless of the exact cause, elderly persons provide an easy target for the anger and frustration of caregivers.
Elder abuse can be physical or emotional in nature and includes neglect, financial exploitation and sexual abuse. Elder abuse is not confined to subsections of the population. Persons from all economic, ethnic and social status backgrounds may become victims of abuse. The abuse is most often committed by employees at care facilities, private caregivers and family members who are tasked with looking out for their elder relative.
According to HelpGuide.org, tens of thousands of older people are victims of abuse in the United States. In the U.S., over half a million reports of elder abuse are filed each year. Many more cases go unreported. Many elders report abuse but are ignored. Family members may believe the abuse is a figment of the elder's imagination or a symptom of mental deterioration. In other cases, the caregiver is able to explain the situation in a manner that does not constitute abuse.
Like elder abuse in general, emotional abuse of the elderly can take many forms. Emotional abuse is any action that causes emotional pain and/or distress. Verbal forms of emotional abuse include yelling at or issuing threats against the victim; constantly blaming the victim; or humiliating, intimidating or ridiculing the victim. Nonverbal forms of emotional abuse include isolating the victim; ignoring the victim or his needs; or any other action that causes feelings of terror or fear.
One of the main causes of elder abuse is stress on the part of the caregiver. Caregivers, at facilities and in the home, may feel overwhelmed by the task of taking care of the older individual. They may face difficulties in other parts of their lives or suffer from depression or drug or alcohol abuse.
Domestic violence is a common cause of elder abuse. The U.S. Administration on Aging reports that spouses are often the culprit of abuse. The chance for abuse is also high if adult children live in the elder person's home. Still another cause is the personal characteristics of the victim or of her illness. Elders who exhibit disruptive behaviors, refuse to cooperate or who have significant needs are more apt to provoke physical or mental abuse from their caregiver.
HelpGuide.org lists several general warning signs of abuse. These signs include changes in the elder person's behavior or personality, signs of stress or frequent arguing between the caregiver and the abuse victim. Specific signs of emotional abuse include dementia like behaviors, such as rocking, mumbling or sucking the thumb. Another warning sign is threatening or abusive behavior that is witnessed by another.
Neglect is a form of emotional abuse because it causes mental and emotional distress. Signs of neglect include dehydration, malnutrition or unusual weight loss; unsafe or unsanitary living conditions; disheveled appearance or being unbathed; bed sores; untreated medical conditions; and leaving the elderly person unattended in public places.