Intervening When Elder Abuse Is Suspected

There are many complex factors related to elder abuse. Combinations of psychological, social and financiall factors contribute to the problem. Mental and physical conditions of both the victim and their abuser are also strongly related to abuse of the elderly. The following factors are the causes that researchers list as important:

  • Caregiver stress: Many times the caregivers are not prepared for the responsibility of caring for the mentally or physically impaired older person. Increased stress leads to abuse and/or neglect.
  • Impairment of dependent elders: Researchers document that elders in poor health are more likely to be abused than those in primarily good health. In addition, caregivers who rely on the elder’s financial income are more likely to initiate abuse.
  • External stress: External stress such as financial problems, job pressures, and family situations increase the risk for abuse among the elderly.
  • Social isolation: Families that experience social isolation can be an indicator for potential abuse or a factor that causes the abuse among the elderly population.
  • Intergenerational transmission of violence: Violence is learned behavior in childhood as a response to anger and/or conflict. In many cases the abuse is a continuation of the abuse that has been occurring within the family.
  • Personal problems of the abuser: Caregivers who suffer from such problems as alcoholism, drug addiction and/or emotional disorders are more likely to become abusers themselves.
  • Cultural issues: Certain cultural factors, such as language barriers, make certain situations difficult to assess for abusive behavior. It is important not to overlook abuse due to cultural differences.

When abuse or neglect is suspected, action must be taken. It is important to follow state,and local requirements when dealing with elder abuse and neglect in your specific area. The following guidelines are general considerations to be taken:

  • Intervene immediately when you witness or suspect abuse and neglect. The primary concern should be in protecting the victim.
  • Witnessed abuse must be documented and investigated accurately. The sooner it is documented, the more accurate the information will be.
  • The incident must be reported to the appropriate state and local authorities.
  • Assessment of the elderly victim must be conducted in a way that is not threatening or judgmental.
  • It should be documented in detail, using quotations whenever possible.
  • A health assessment should be completed in accordance with policy and according to state specific laws governing cases of elder abuse and neglect.

Remember that abuse can take many forms and have many causes. The more alert you are to signs of abuse, the more readily you will be able to take the appropriate action.