Elder Abuse: An Underreported Problem

by Carey Aldava of Adult Protective Services.
This article appeared in LIVEWell.

Billions of dollars are stolen from older adults each year, while self-abuse also plagues this age group. Know the signs to help stop elder abuse.

According to a 2021 report by the National Council on Aging, one in 10 Americans aged 60 and older have experienced some form of elder abuse. However, it is estimated that only one in 24 cases is ever reported. Ventura County Adult Protective Services received over 5,200 reports of abuse and neglect in 2022. Financial abuse, as indicated over the past seven years, is consistently one of the most reported types of abuse against elders in our county.

Some of the risk factors include living alone, no regular physician, lack of social support/isolation, lack of resources, family conflict, substance abuse, confusion or cognitive impairment, and refusing help from others.

According to the National Center on Aging, elders throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion to $36 billion annually due to financial abuse and exploitation. These critical funds are needed to pay for basic necessities such as housing, food, and medical care.

Unfortunately, no one is immune to abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It occurs in every demographic, and can happen to anyone – a family member, a neighbor, even you. Yet it rare to discover these crimes, typically because clients are reluctant to disclose the abuse and/or neglect.

Elders neglecting their own needs, which is commonly known as self-neglect, is the second-most consistently reported type of abuse against elders in our county. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, self-neglect is a form of self-harm that may co-occur with, provoke, or be triggered by elder mistreatment. It is characterized as the behavior of an older person that threatens their own health or safety, including but not limited to, the refusal or failure to provide themselves with life’s necessities.

Self-neglect is an under-reported type of abuse in Ventura County. In 2020, self-neglect was reported 49.2 percent of the time nationally. However, in 2021, only 38 percent of referrals received in Ventura County had self-neglect allegations.

Risk factors for self-neglect include recent widowing or the loss of a loved one, worsening medical problems or a disability, lack of outside contact, isolation from friends and family, lack of a caregiver, and cognitive impairment or dementia. Studies have indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the incidence of self-neglect in aged populations and increased the need for the use of intervention tools for aging adults and geriatric patients living alone, many of which may include in-home artificial intelligence systems.

Here are eight things that anyone can do to prevent elder abuse:

Learn the signs of elder abuse, neglect, and self-neglect
Stay physically and mentally active
Avoid isolation, keep involved in the community and with family
Stay healthy and seek medical care when necessary
Monitor your financial affairs and watch for unusual banking activity
Be aware of scams – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
Use licensed and bonded caregivers who have had background checks
Be careful before adding family or caregivers onto your bank accounts

If you suspect elder or dependent adult abuse, please contact the Child and Elder Abuse Reporting Hotline at (805) 654-3200 to make a report. Or, you may submit a report online at https://www.reporttoaps.org/.

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