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Elder Abuse and Mistreatment: An Underrecognized Public Health and Human Rights Issue

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Medriva Correspondents
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Elder Abuse and Mistreatment: An Underrecognized Public Health and Human Rights Issue

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Understanding Elder Abuse

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Elder abuse, a term used to describe harmful behaviors or lack of care causing distress to an older person, is disturbingly prevalent in the U.S. It can take many forms such as psychological abuse, neglect, financial abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse. The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study aptly defines it as a single or repeated act or failure to act, including threats, that results in harm or distress to an older person. Ageism and negative stereotypes about older people often contribute to elder abuse. Any older person can experience elder abuse, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or social class. Most often, the abuse is perpetrated by someone the older person trusts, such as family members or intimate partners.

Prevalence and Impact of Elder Abuse

Reports highlight the prevalence of elder abuse and mistreatment in the U.S, with the victims experiencing physical, emotional, and financial abuse, as well as neglect. The effects of these abusive practices can be severe and long-lasting, emphasizing the crucial need for awareness and prevention. Elder abuse in America is a significant and growing concern, including various forms of mistreatment and neglect experienced by older individuals. It is often underreported due to victims' reluctance or fear of retaliation, or their physical or cognitive inability to report abuse. The impact of elder abuse can be profound, leading to physical injuries, psychological trauma, and a decline in quality of life.

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Abuse in Caregiving and Domestic Work

Particular attention is drawn to the experiences of older caregivers and domestic workers. Older caregivers may face emotional, physical, and financial mistreatment, while older domestic workers confront unique challenges. A multifaceted approach is advocated to protect these vulnerable individuals, with an emphasis on collaboration between the primary care and social service sectors. Financial exploitation is also a significant issue, and institutional settings, such as nursing homes, are not immune to elder abuse due to understaffing and inadequate oversight.

Efforts to Combat Elder Abuse

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The U.S. Department of Justice operates the Elder Justice Initiative, a mission to combat elder abuse, neglect, and financial fraud targeting older adults. They provide training and resources to elder justice professionals, investigate and prosecute financial scams, promote research into elder abuse, and connect victims with investigative agencies. The Department also supports older victims through the National Elder Fraud Hotline and the Elder Justice Neighborhood Map, and enhances state and local elder justice efforts through training, resources, and tools. They also raise public awareness to prevent elder abuse and financial fraud.

The Role of Isolation in Elder Abuse

A study reveals that isolation is a significant risk factor for elder abuse and mistreatment of older people. Isolation can lead to memory loss, poor diet and self-care, decreased mobility and increased risk of mortality. Isolation is particularly acute in rural and regional areas where access to critical services like healthcare and transport can be lacking. The study emphasizes the role of the local community in combating social isolation and suggests age-friendly infrastructure and education programs to address barriers to social connection.

Conclusion

The prevalence and impact of elder abuse underscore the critical need for elder justice. Addressing elder abuse requires a multifaceted approach, including increasing public awareness, improving reporting mechanisms, providing better support and resources for victims, and legal interventions. It is an issue of public health and human rights that demands immediate attention and action.

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