Seniors Digest
KIPDA Area Agency on Aging and
Independent Living
  March 1, 2012 

What is Elder Abuse?

It is difficult to believe that an older family member or friend may be a victim of abuse, but it happens and it happens in our own community. What is elder abuse? Federal definitions of elder abuse first appeared in the 1987 Older Americans Act, intended to serve as guides in order to define the problem. Any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person can be defined as abuse.

There are several major types of Elder Abuse. They are Financial/Exploitation, Physical Abuse, and Sexual Abuse. There is also Emotional Abuse, Caretaker Neglect and Self-Neglect. Here are brief definitions that you may find helpful, if you should suspect that someone is suffering from elder abuse:

Financial Abuse is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder's funds, property or assets. An example of this would be cashing an elderly person's checks without their permission or authorization, stealing money or possessions, and the misuse of conservatorship, guardianship or POA (Power of Attorney).

Physical Abuse is defined as the use of physical force that may result in bodily harm, injury or pain. Such acts as punching, hitting, shoving, shaking, burning and other physical mistreatment are examples of physical abuse.

Sexual Abuse is defined as non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person. It includes, but is not limited to, unwanted touching, rape, sodomy, coerced nudity and sexually explicit photographing.

Emotional Abuse is defined as the infliction of anguish, pain or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. Emotional abuse includes, but is not limited to, verbal assaults, insults, threats, intimidation, and treating an older person like an infant.

Caretaker Neglect is defined as the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person's obligations or duties to an elder. It usually means failure to provide an elderly person with necessities, including food, clothing, medicine, personal hygiene and other essentials.

Self-neglect is the behavior of an elderly person that threatens his/her own health or safety. The definition of self-neglect excludes a situation in which a mentally competent elderly person makes a conscious and voluntary decision to engage in acts that threaten his/her health or safety.

Elder abuse occurs in every community and in different settings. Even in their own homes, elders can be abused and neglected.

If you suspect abuse of a resident in a nursing home, you can contact the area's Long-Term Care Ombudsman. The ombudsman program is a federally funded program that advocates on behalf of residents in long-term care facilities to make sure that their rights are protected. The ombudsman will investigate the concerns of abuse and exploitation of a senior in a long-term care facility. The Ombudsman Program will also report any incidents of abuse to DCBS (Department of Community Based Services) and APS (Adult Protective Services), along with the Officer of the Inspector General, which is the enforcement agency of federal nursing home regulations. In some instances law enforcement may be notified as well as the Attorney General’s Office.  An ombudsman poster with contact information is located in all Kentucky nursing homes and long term care facilities.

How can elder abuse be prevented? While there are various theories, there are no definitive factors that can explain elder abuse. There are some helpful hints to help prevent elder abuse: avoid isolation, stay social and stay active. Keep in touch with family and friends. Don’t live with a person who has a history of abusive/violent behavior. If you have a loved one in a long-term care facility, visit often and at various time of the day or evening.

Kentucky is a mandatory reporting state. If you witness or suspect elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, it is your responsibility to report. Contact the police or call the Adult Abuse Hotline at 1-800-752-6200. No one should be a victim of abuse at any age.


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