Who is most at risk of elderly abuse?

This coming Saturday, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. To recognize this serious issue, RetirementHomes.com is producing a series of articles this week to discussing the phenomenon of elder abuse, its causes, warning signs, and its solutions.

Elder abuse is any act which causes harm or distress to an older person, whether it is a regular occurrence or a single act, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It can also be, according to the WHO, the absence of action, namely neglect and abandonment.

Although there are no hard statistics on the extent of elder abuse, in part because many seniors who suffer never report their experiences, most estimates say between four and six per cent of seniors have been victims of elder abuse at some point in their lives.

But elder abuse is not a monolithic term. In fact, elder abuse takes many forms, including financial abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, or sexual abuse.

About five per cent of seniors suffer from elder abuse Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills, California-based psychiatrist and expert witness, told RetirementHomes.com that the likely perpetrators of elder abuse varies depending on the type of elder abuse committed.

When adult children are the perpetrators of elder abuse, it is likely to be an example of pent-up anger against their parent, according to Lieberman.

“Adult children are more likely to be perpetrators of financial and emotional abuse, neglect and abandonment,” Lieberman said.

“Typically, these adult children are carrying resentments from childhood towards their parent and use the parent's vulnerability against them to get back at them for the love and attention they felt deprived of growing up.”

Both sexual and physical abuses, for example, are typically committed by professional caregivers and other medical professionals and institutions who have a more detached relationship to the senior, Lieberman said.

In all cases of elder abuse, there is a strong dynamic of power at play, according to Lieberman, where the abuser – whether it’s an adult child, spouse, or medical professional – takes advantage of the weakness, fear or vulnerability of the senior.

To help prevent the abuse of yourself, or an elderly loved one, Lieberman said there are steps that can be taken for protection before anything happens.

“Seniors need to arm themselves with a plan before they become the target of abuse,” Lieberman said. “This plan should include deciding which family members are most trustworthy and most likely to come to their aid, as well as assembling a cadre of attorneys, accountants and other professionals to work with.”