Elder Abuse: How to Protect the Ones You Love

by John Kie-Vining

While abused children and victims of spousal battering have been the topics of widespread study, elder abuse has been relatively hidden until recently. The typical victim of elder abuse is women over the age of 75 who are physically and perhaps mentally dependent.


Typically the abuser is a relative, and frequently the adult child of the victim. The abuse is ongoing and may take several forms such as financial, physical, or psychological. The abuse may include violation of basic rights such as right to worship, the right to privacy, the right to handle one’s personal and financial affairs if capable.


The victim is reluctant to report abuse out of shame at having raised a child who would do such things. They often fear being placed in a nursing home. The abuser is likely to hide the abuse out of self-interest, and denies or rationalizes the abuse.


What kind of abuse do the elderly face?


Psychological abuse: infliction of mental anguish be demeaning, name-calling, insulting, ignoring, humiliating, frightening, threatening, isolating, etc.


Physical abuse: Infliction of physical pain or injury, physical coercion, confinement, slapping, bruising, sexually molesting, cutting, lacerating, burning, restraining, pushing, shoving, etc.


Material/Financial abuse: Illegal or unethical exploitation by using funds, property, or other assets of an older person for personal gain, etc.


Passive neglect: Unintentional failure to fulfill a caretaking obligation, infliction of distress without conscious or willful intent, etc.


Active neglect: intentional failure to fulfill caregiving obligations, infliction of physical or emotional stress or injury, abandonment, denial of food, medication, personal hygiene, etc.


What are some physical indicators of abuse or neglect?


Some indicators include a history of unexplained falls or minor injuries, bruising in well-protected areas, finger marks, burns in unusual places, unmet medical needs, poor hygiene, malnutrition, over/undermedication.


What are some emotional and social indicators of abuse and neglect?


The elderly person appears to be withdrawn or agitated and anxious. They may be isolated in one room of the house. They are unkempt, unwashed and smelly. They are overly subservient or anxious to please. Professional and other visitors may have difficulty getting access to the elderly person.


What are some social and emotional indicators of the abusers?


They may have an unremitting sense of anger, frustration, or despair, a sense of unfairness, of being victimized and/or resentment. They grieve for lost personal ambition and plans. They are anxiety or worried. They have a sense of not being cared for themselves. They themselves may feel isolated and lonely. They may have a loss of self-esteem, a lack of time for themselves and an inability to see any end to the situation and no future.


So, how do your protect your elderly loved ones from abuse?


Maintain close ties with aging relatives and friends-keep abreast of changes in their health and ability to live independently.

Discuss an older relative’s wishes regarding health care, terminal medical care alternatives, home care in the case of incapacitation and disposition of his/her personal assets.

Find sources of help and use them—chore services, housekeeping, home-delivered meals, senior recreation day care, respite care and transportation assistance are available in many communities.

With the older person’s consent, become familiar with his/her financial records, bank accounts, will, safe deposit boxes, insurance, debts, and sources of income before he/she becomes incapacitated—talk and plan together now about how these affairs should be handled.

Anticipate potential incapacitation by planning as a family who will take responsibility such as power-of-attorney or in-home caregiving if an aging relative becomes incapacitated.

Closely examine your family’s ability to provide long-term, in-home care for a frail and increasingly dependent relative—consider the family’s physical limits.

Plan how your own needs will be met when your responsibility for the dependent older relative increases.

Explore alternative sources of care, including nursing homes or other relatives’ homes, in case your situation changes.

Discuss your plans with friends, neighbors, and other sources of support before your responsibilities become a burden—ask for their understanding and emotional support-you may need them.

Familiarize family members with emergency response agencies and services available in case of sudden need.


Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
Exodus 20:11-13 KJV


Kie-Vining, John. When Home is Where the Hurt Is: A Ministry Intervention Guide for Trauma Victims. Family Ministries, pp. 107-119.





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