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Elder Mistreatment and Neglect Abstract

ElderMistreatment and Neglect


Thepurpose of this paper is to explore the issue of elder mistreatmentand neglect. Elder mistreatment and neglect is a hidden andunreported yet growing issue with considerable societal and publichealth implications. Many elderly people are subject to abuse intheir homes, facilities that care for old people and also in thehomes of their relatives. However, many cases of elder mistreatmentare hidden or go unreported.

Definitionof Elder Mistreatment

Eldermistreatment and neglect is a hidden and unreported yet growing issuewith considerable societal and public health implications. Theproblem affects elderly adults of all cultures, races, gender, faithcommunities, geographical areas, and physical and mental abilities(Falk, Baigis &amp Kopac, 2008).

Theterm elder mistreatment means any sexual, psychological, or physicalabuse, abandonment, neglect, or monetary exploitation of elderlyadults within a relationship or when they became targeted groupsbased on disability or age. Their adult children may abuse elderlyindividuals, spouses, caregivers, family members or individuals invarious levels of authority (Acierno, et al., 2010). Strangers mayalso target older people as victims of stalking, financialexploitation or sexual assault.

Asolder people age, they become frailer and develop cognitive andphysical problems. As a result, they are less capable of fightingback or stand up to assault when mistreated. Elder mistreatmentassumes many forms including financial exploitation, sexual,emotional, verbal and physical abuse (Dong, et al., 2011).

Victimsof elder mistreatment do not report what they go through because theyare mistreated by known perpetrators like a loved one, familymembers, or caregivers. The victims find it difficult to confer tosomeone that their trusted caregiver or loved one is abusive.

Psychologicalabuse, neglect and financial abuse are very prevalent.

Thepassing of the Elder Justice Act 2010 is considered a historical andcomprehensive legislative to deal with elder abuse, exploitation, andneglect (Falk, Baigis &amp Kopac, 2008). The Act has many provisionsto combat elder mistreatment. The legislation mandates the federalauthority to coordinate efforts and administer programs promotingelder justice. EJA also authorizes federal funding to initiateresearch on elder mistreatment and to increase awareness. The Actsupports the investigation of cases of mistreatment and prosecutionof perpetrators by providing needed resources to prevent andprosecute perpetrators (Falk, Baigis &amp Kopac, 2008).

Falk,Baigis and Kopac (2008) estimate that approximately700000-1.2 millionelderly adults in America annually experience abuse and that over450,000 cases of mistreatment are identified every year. Thesestaggering statistics show how this problem has grown worse. Theproblem is expected to get out of control with the growing number ofaging baby boomers.

Despitethese startling figures, the victim service providers’ awareness issparse due to lack of adequate information. The only source ofinformation is from small, non-representative samples, criminaljustice systems and caregiver reports (Falk, Baigis &amp Kopac,2008). Due to lack of national uniform reporting systems, nationalsamples and exact incidence statistics on elder abuse areunavailable.


Thoughthere are many policies and legislations in place to combat elderexploitation, neglect, and abuse, existing barriers have made itdifficult to address the problem. The first challenge is the lack ofone true definition of elder mistreatment/abuse. The lack of a singleuniversally agreed definition of elder mistreatment hampers effortsby practitioners, researchers and policy makers to determine theextent of the problem (Acierno, et al., 2010). This, in turn, has ledto poor coordination among victim service provider in order to mountan appropriate response. For example, the National Research Councildefined elder mistreatment as:

intentionalactions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm to avulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trustrelationship to the elder,` and neglect as, `failure by a caregiverto satisfy an elder`s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm(Enguidanos, et al., 2016:4).

Onits part, the World Health Organization defined elder abuse as “`asingle or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurringwithin any relationship where there is an expectation of trust whichcauses harm or distress to an older person,”( Enguidanos, et al.,2016: 4). While these definitions provide a reference point forscholars to study the problem, they fail to match the view of elderindividuals themselves. Elderly adults tend to approach this issuefrom socio-cultural orientations. According to Enguidanos, et al.(2016), elderly adults are more likely to view elderly mistreatmentas a violation of legal, human and medical rights, deprivation ofstatus, choice, respect and finances, and neglect in the form ofabandonment and social exclusion. Thus victim service providersseeking to serve elderly population need to come up with a morecomprehensive framework that takes into account diverse forms ofelderly abuse.

Anotherchallenge is the failure to take into account the socio-culturallandscape in which attitudes and beliefs about elderly abuse develop.Different cultures shape perceptions about elder abuse differently.Different racial and ethnic groups perceive elder mistreatmentdifferent. For example, African-Americans are more likely than otherracial and ethnic groups to recognize financial exploitation byfamily members as mistreatment (Enguidanos, et al, 2016).Furthermore, African Americans are more likely to seek formalhelp-seeking alternatives to address the problem than to seek familyassistance.

Lastbut not least, current definitions of elder mistreatment fail toinclude the interpersonal and context of abuse adequately. This meansthat what one considers an abuse may not be seen as an abuse byanother. For example, people may judge abusive behaviors towardsolder adults by middle-aged adults as a form of mistreatmentrequiring reporting, but if the perpetrator is an old adult, the samebehaviors are not seen as abusive (Enguidanos, et al, 2016).

Studiesindicate that cases of elder mistreatment are hidden orunderreported. In addition to that, many of the reported cases slipthrough the cracks because of poor coordination among victim serviceproviders

Consequencesof Elder Mistreatment

Eldermistreatment carries serious corollaries of the wellbeing and healthof older adults. It causes illness, injury (bruises, dental problems,broken bones, and head injuries), despair, isolation and lostproductivity (Dong, et al. 2011). Elder abuse increases risks ofpremature death, causes sleep disturbance and exacerbates preexistinghealth problems. Psychologically, mistreated elderly adults sufferdistress and depression (Falk, Baigis &amp Kopac, 2012). Elderlyvictims often suffer shame, economic loss, pain, physical andspiritual anguish, reduced quality of life, and institutionalization.Older individuals subjected to physical mistreatment are at greaterrisk for mortality.


TheUnited States is at an advanced level in an effort to galvanize orspur social action against mistreatment of elderly adults. Thecountry has developed, at the state, county and federal levels,policy initiatives and legislation to address the problem. Thepassage of the Elder Justice Act 2010 is hailed as a major milestone(Falk, Baigis &amp Kopac, 2012). In addition to improvingcoordination, the Act supports the prosecution of perpetrators ofelder abuse and provides resources required to implement protectionprograms for elderly adults. The country also prides itself withadvanced reporting and treatment systems.

Thereare still other areas that should need to improve in order to dealwith the issue squarely effectively. The justice system, healthcarepractitioners, victim service providers, and social service agenciesneed to work together to abate elder abuse. Coordinated efforts willlead to improved reporting of elder abuse cases, prosecution ofperpetrators, and protection of vulnerable individuals and also tomeet the needs of this population.

Researchis another area requiring improvement. A concrete base of knowledgeis vital for programming, policy, and planning. The current researchis incomplete and weak as many facets of the issue remain largelyunknown (Sharon, 2012). There is a need to make this research strongto help understand the scope of the problem. This is importantespecially when it comes to designing and implementing programs andinterventions to combat elderly abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

Inregards to raising awareness, there is a need to introduce educationand awareness campaigns to inform people about elder mistreatment.Prevention starts with awareness of the problem. Education teachespeople new information and also helps change their behavior andattitude (Sharon, 2012). Health practitioners can stand to benefitfrom seminars, training sessions, continued educational programs andworkshops on how to identify suspected cases of elder abuse and theappropriate course of action to take.

Implicationsfor Gerontogic Nursing

Gerontologistsmust be ready and prepared to address the issue of elderly adultabuse in their settings. This requires having an organizationalpolicy in place to guide gerontologists how to assess older peoplesuspected to be victims of abuse. The nurses will also be required tofollow legal reporting and protecting requirements to avoid alawsuit. To make a difference in the lives of older people, nursestake advocacy role to address the problem of elderly abuse in bothpolicy arena and clinical setting (Falk, Baigis &amp Kopac, 2012).

Whilegathering and documenting proof of elder mistreatment is important,many gerontologists are not trained to identify and documentsuspected abuse cases. Therefore, such nurses will require trainingto learn how to assess and protect this vulnerable population.


Thispaper has addressed the issue of elder mistreatment that iswidespread in our society. It has defined the problem, addressedchallenges surrounding the issue the underlying consequences causedby the problem, and presented solutions.


Acierno,R., et al. (2010). Prevalence and Correlates of Emotional, Physical,Sexual, and Financial Abuse and Potential Neglect in the UnitedStates: The National Elder Mistreatment Study. AmericanJournal of Public Health, 100(2):292-7.

Dong,X., et al. (2011). Elder Abuse and Mortality: The Role ofPsychological and Social Wellbeing. Gerontology,57(6):549-58

Enguidanos,S. et al. (2014). Multicultural voices: Attitudes of older adults inthe United States of. America about elder mistreatment. Ageing &ampSociety,. 34, 877–903.

Falk,N. L, Baigis, J., Kopac, C. (2012). Elder Mistreatment and the ElderJustice Act. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 17(3), 7.

Sharon,S. (2012). Elder abuse: Screening, intervention, and prevention.Nursing,42(10):24-29.