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Across the globe, elder abuse is top-of-mind June 15

A K-State aging specialist describes types and signs of abuse in older populations.

elder abuseReleased: June 14, 2016

MANHATTAN, Kan. – According to the United Nations, which recognizes World Elder Abuse Awareness Day June 15, about 4 to 6 percent of elderly people have experienced some form of maltreatment at home. This maltreatment may not only lead to serious physical injuries, but it can also cause long-term psychological consequences.

Additionally, the U.N. reports that the global population of people 60 years of age and older will rise to about 1.2 billion by 2025, and the incidence of abuse in seniors is predicted to increase as well.

Several different signs indicate that elder abuse is occurring, said Erin Yelland, assistant professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. Signs of physical abuse include chronic bruising, agitation and aggression toward a caregiver. Sexual abuse is also a concern in older populations, which is more prominent than people might think.

The most reported form of abuse among seniors, however, is financial abuse, which is sometimes called exploitation. Financial abuse occurs when the abuser takes belongings or funds from the elder and uses them illegally or improperly, often for personal gain, said Yelland, an aging specialist with K-State Research and Extension.

“Last year, it’s estimated that financial elder abuse cost older Americans $2.9 billion in lost revenues, lost incomes or from things being stolen,” she said.

This has become more common with the internet, Yelland said, which provides another avenue for criminals to access bank accounts. Close friends, children and grandchildren of older individuals may be able to guess passwords and easily get into accounts without permission.

“We also see troubled individuals who will go into an elder’s home, take that person’s belongings and sell them for their own financial gain,” she said. “Of course that is also financial abuse.”

For those elders who are dependent on medical care, neglect is another form of abuse. Many times caregivers can become overwhelmed and “burnt out” from their responsibilities, and they decide to give up.

“This can mean not providing elders with food, shelter and water,” Yelland said. “It can also mean not providing them with their medications or the medical care they may need.”

Further, abandonment by the caregiver could be an eventual result of chronic neglect. This could mean abandonment for a day, several days or even permanent abandonment, she said.

“It’s important that the caregivers are taking good care of themselves, too,” Yelland said. “Then they can take better care of who they are caregiving for.”

Vulnerability of elders

Sadly, a majority of the offenders are known and trusted by the elder being abused, noted Yelland; in fact, research has shown that the abuser is a family member 90 percent of the time. This could include, for example, the elder’s spouse, adult child or the adult child’s spouse.

Watch carefully for personal problems of potential abusers, she said. If individuals close to the elder have personal financial problems or are dependent on the elder in another way, they may be more likely to abuse the elder. Sometimes drug or alcohol addicts will depend on the elder for money to support their habit, and the elder might not realize it.

“Older adults are more vulnerable to abuse for many reasons,” Yelland said. “The first is that they are often socially isolated, meaning they may not have connections with their community or their family and friends. That makes it a perfect environment for abuse, because they don’t have folks coming over to check on them regularly. They don’t have pre-determined social engagements, which gives abusers an opportunity to enact that abuse.”

She suggests that older adults keep in contact with the local senior center on a regular basis, or make frequent appearances at other public places, such as the local coffee shop. If the person cannot get out on a regular basis, he or she should keep in contact with a close friend or community member to avoid that social isolation.

The second reason older adults are vulnerable to abuse, Yelland said, is because of mental impairment due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Research has shown that half of individuals with these conditions have been abused or neglected at some point in their lives.

“Older adults might also experience continued abuse,” she said. “They may have had a history of abuse or domestic violence in their home that is continued but is now complicated with all that comes with aging. They might now have dementia or Alzheimer’s. They might be more physically frail and have more medical needs. If that abuse continues, older adults might experience a magnified effect of the abuse.”

Information to help

Reporting suspected abuse is important, because people who are abused have a 300 percent chance of dying compared to those who are not abused, Yelland said.

“If the person is in immediate danger, call 911,” she said. “If you suspect elder abuse, call and report it. One easy way to do that is to call the adult protective services organization in your state. Every state has adult protective services; it might be called something different in your state, but the best thing to do is search for it online. It should come up with the organization you need to talk to.”

To help prevent elder abuse, Yelland said to prepare and make yourself less of a risk for abuse in later years.

“Prepare your finances and your health care wishes in advance,” she said. “Make sure items such as your financial will, living will, health care wishes and powers of attorney are settled and in place.”

A federal website called “Nursing Home Compare,” available through the Medicare program, helps people make informed decisions about assisted living and shows ratings such as how well the centers have cared for patients in the past.

For caregivers, consider looking into local respite care options that can provide caregivers with breaks regularly. This can help prevent over-exhaustion of caregivers, Yelland said.

For more information or to report suspected elder abuse in Kansas, visit the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. Contact any local K-State Research and Extension office for more tips and information in caring for older adults.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Katie Allen
K-State Research and Extension

For more information:
Erin Yelland - 785-532-1905 or erinyelland@ksu.edu