In the month of June, we observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on the 15th. In a perfect world, we would not need to bring awareness to an issue that destroys so many lives and families. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from perfect and, sadly, elder abuse is significantly under-identified and under-reported.
Elder abuse is widespread. A comprehensive review article published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015 found the prevalence of elder abuse to be approximately 10% including physical abuse, psychological or verbal abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect.
According to a 2019 article in The Marietta Times, citing data from Buckeye Hills Regional Council/Area Agency on Aging, every five seconds, an elderly person in the U.S. is abused. Elders with dementia who have been abused have a 300 times higher risk of death. County departments of job and family services in Ohio had a total of 16,241 reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation for adults age 60 and older from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. It is estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities. In almost 60 percent of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.
Like other forms of interpersonal violence, elder abuse usually occurs behind closed doors. Many people who experience elder abuse are reluctant to report abuse because they may:
• Feel ashamed and embarrassed, particularly if a family member is the perpetrator
• Be afraid that the perpetrator will get in trouble
• Worry that they will be forced to live in a nursing home—and this sometimes happens
• Feel guilty or somehow to blame
• Be in denial that the abuse is occurring, or unaware that what they are experiencing is abuse or neglect
• Be afraid that if they report, the abuse will get worse.
At the O’Neill Center, we have caring staff who know what signs to look for and we have resources available to make referrals for help. In our Adult Day Center, for example, O’Neill maintains a staff-to-client ratio of one staff member to every six clients and two staff members are present when more than one client is present, such as ADS nurse and aide. ADS center aides undergo eight hours of continuing education or in-service annually.
While any older person is potentially at risk of elder abuse, some are more susceptible to experience abuse or neglect than others. Based on available information, women and people 80 and older are more likely to experience abuse. Factors such as dementia or poor physical health can increase older people’s isolation, which in turn puts people at greater risk of experiencing abuse or neglect.
At our centers in Marietta and Belpre, we cherish the seniors who walk through the doors. Helping them to remain Healthy, Independent and Productive also means making sure that they are safe. We take our jobs very seriously and we invite the public to contact us and arrange a visit any time.
If you suspect elder abuse is happening, call law enforcement or Adult Protective Services at 740-373-5513.
Erin O’Neill is Development Coordinator for The O’Neill Center, located at 333 Fourth St. in Marietta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740-373-3914.