While summertime brings warmer weather, leaving the snow and ice behind, it is also a time to focus attention on adult and elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. In 2006, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse proclaimed that June 15th of each year would be recognized as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This is in addition to Virginia Governor, Glenn Youngkin, who recognized May, 2022 as Adult Abuse Prevention Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
There are currently 1.9 million Virginians age 60 or older, a number that will increase to 2.2 million in 2030. Virginia Adult Protective Services received over 39,000 reports of adult abuse, neglect and exploitation during fiscal year 2021, which was a five percent increase from the previous year. The agency covers adults 60 years of age or older and incapacitated adults age 18 or older. During state fiscal year 2020, of all the reports of adult abuse, neglect or exploitation received through Adult Protective Services, 73 percent were persons age 60 years and older. The Department of Justice reports that elder abuse affects at least 10 percent of older Americans every year.
Adult abuse, neglect and exploitation have no boundaries and cross all social, economic, racial, gender, ethnic, and geographic lines. Elder abuse is defined as an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult. Types of adult abuse include:
- Physical abuse – Intentional infliction of physical pain or injury
- Mental or psychological abuse – Intentional infliction of mental anguish by verbal assault, threat, intimidation, humiliation, or other means
- Sexual abuse – Unwanted sexual activity
- Neglect – Lack of necessary assistance to keep physically and mentally healthy
- Self-neglect – Failure to provide one’s self with the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, needed medical care, and reasonable financial management
- Financial exploitation (including fraud and scams) – Illegal use of an adult’s resources or property for another individual’s profit or advantage
Some risk factors for elder abuse can include: low social supports, poor physical health and experience of previous traumatic events, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. According to the Department of Justice, close to half of elderly individuals who suffer from dementia will experience abuse during their lifetime. Research suggests that elderly individuals who experience cognitive impairment, physical disabilities, and isolation are more likely to become the victims of abuse than those without disabilities.
The Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services reports that the majority of incidents of adult abuse, neglect or exploitation occur in the adult’s own house or apartment. In addition, the National Adult Protective Services Association reports that approximately 90 percent of the perpetrators in elder financial exploitation cases are family members or other trusted individuals.
Why are older adults targeted, especially in financial exploitation? There are many possibilities that may include:
- Vulnerability and loneliness
- Isolation – No one to discuss things with
- Declining memory
- Declining health
- At home due to retirement, or unable to leave the house due to physical ailments
- Unable to perform tasks that need to be done – susceptible to scams and exploitation
- Perpetrator perceives the older adult has large amount of money from life savings or valuable property – susceptible to scams and exploitation
- Older adult desires financial security due to fixed income – susceptible to scams and exploitation
There are possible signs that may signal that someone is being abused. Each type of abuse, neglect, and exploitation has its own set of possible signs. These are some examples:
- Unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in behavior
- Withdrawal from normal activities
- Mistrust of others; reluctance to speak openly
- Severe anxiety, fearfulness, depression
- Adult prevented from visiting alone (isolated)
- Verbally aggressive, demeaning, controlling, and/or uncaring caregiver
Only a small fraction of elder abuse cases is reported to the authorities. Public awareness of elder abuse has the potential to increase identification and reporting of this crime by the public and victims. There are many programs that provide services to older Virginians and Virginians with disabilities to help them live free of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Resources include:
- Virginia Adult Protective Services 24 Hour Hotline: 1- 888-832-3858
- Virginia Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Hotline – Action Alliance Hotline Center: 1-800-838-8238
- If someone is in immediate danger and in case of an emergency, dial 911
If you suspect someone is being abused, neglected, or exploited, please share these resources with them and encourage them to report the abuse or talk to someone.