Of all the baby girls born in 2001, 50% will live to be 100 years of age. Additionally, persons 80 years of age and older are the fastest growing population in our society, which raises concern because of the increasing problem of elder abuse . Utah Code defines elder abuse as “…abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an elder adult,” who is a person 65 years of age or older. For Utah, elder adults are categorized as “vulnerable adults,” or one who may have difficulty “providing personal protection; providing necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, or mental or other health care; obtaining services necessary for health, safety or welfare; carrying out activities of daily living; managing the adult’s resources; or comprehending the nature and consequences of remaining in a situation of abuse, neglect or exploitation” . Further, Utah has a mandatory reporting law such that anyone who knows about but does not report elder abuse is “…guilty of a class B misdemeanor” .
In 2004, Utah’s Adult Protective Services (APS) received approximately 3,500 referrals, of which 2,431 were for elder maltreatment of both men and women. Of these referrals 59% of the elderly individuals involved were women and 44% of these women had experienced a prior referral. Forty-five percent of the allegations were for neglect, 33% for abuse, and 22% for exploitation (Figure 1) . In terms of the elderly (those individuals 60 years and above) who were involved in a referral to APS, 14% were ages 60 to 69, 22% were ages 70 to 79, 24% were ages 80 to 89, and 6% were 90 and older. Thus, the risk of elder maltreatment increases with age .
Certain characteristics make the elderly an easy target of abuse. These characteristics include: loneliness, cognitive impairment/dementia, physical impairment, misguided trust, and isolation. In addition, 30% of the victims are physically handicapped, 14% have mental health issues, 12% have family violence/discord, and 10% are developmentally delayed. As shown in Figure 2, other indicators are noted as well .
The Physical and Psychological Consequences of Elder Abuse
There are certain physical indicators that an elderly person is being abused: unexplained bruises/burns, dehydration/malnutrition, soiled clothing/linen, and isolation. Additionally, there are indicators of neglect (by self or others): untreated bedsores/sores, decayed teeth, dirty clothing/environment, availability of necessities (food, water, sanitary needs), isolation, and death. Indicators of exploitation are unusual bank activity, recent changes in property title(s), new acquaintances living with the elder, sudden increase in debt, and decrease in lifestyle . Women who are subject to elder abuse, often experience severe psychological consequences such as a low self-esteem, limited social skills, fear, shame, guilt, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and alienation .
If you suspect elder abuse or neglect, contact Adult Protective Services (APS) Intake at: 1-800-371-7897. If a vulnerable adult is in immediate danger, dial 9-1-1 or your local law enforcement agency.
- Power Point presentation given by Chuck Diviney at the College of Social Work at the University of Utah, Spring 2006.
- Utah Code/Constitution. Available online at http://www.livepublish.le.state.ut.us/lpBin22/lpext.dllf=templates&fn=mainj.htm&2.0. Accessed September 20, 2006.
- A Multivariate Analysis of Eight Years of Utah Data on Elder Abuse and Neglect: Grant Proposal. College of Social Work at the University of Utah.
- National Center on Elder Abuse: Emotional Distress and Elder Abuse. Available online at http://www.elderabusecenter.org/default.cfm?p=emotionaldistress.cfm. Accessed October 1, 2006.