It no longer comes as a surprise for many Southern Californians that our elderly loved ones can be at serious risk of nursing home abuse and neglect in facilities that we once believed were safe. But recognizing that there is a problem is not enough to solve it. What can we do to prevent elder abuse in a large-scale, lasting way? A recent article in the Cornell Chronicle cited a new study in The New England Journal of Medicine, which underscored the significance of the “It Takes a Village” approach to putting a stop to elder abuse.
Profiling the Most Likely Victims of Elder Abuse
As the new study explains, we have not learned that rates of elder abuse are increasing. Instead, we have learned more about how frequently elder abuse occurs and to whom. Over the last several years, physicians and researchers have identified a certain profile of seniors who are most likely to become victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. Risk factors include but are not limited to:
- Gender: More women experience elder abuse, the authors of the study report, than do men;
- Impairment: Cognitive and physical impairments make elder abuse or neglect more likely;
- Income: Seniors with low incomes are more likely to become victims of nursing home abuse;
- Dementia: Older adults who have been diagnosed with dementia are more likely than those without dementia to be abused; and
- Residence: Those who live “with others such as a spouse or adult children, are also at higher risk.”
Having more than one of the risk factors increases the likelihood of elder abuse. As the study authors explain, “you can get a picture of an older woman, who is beginning to experience an impairment, lives with a relative (who is likely to be the abuser) and otherwise is socially isolated, and may have some form of dementia.” And elder abuse is not limited to physical abuse. The recent study underscores that abuse can come in many forms, including sexual and psychological abuse, verbal mistreatment, and neglect.
If we know the profile of the most likely victims of abuse, is there more we can do to prevent it?
Developing a Multidisciplinary Team Approach
Physicians are in the best position to recognize elder abuse and to intervene. As Mark Lachs, one of the study’ co-authors and a professor of medicine and co-chief of the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine explains, “a physician may be the only person who ever gets the chance to detect elder abuse because these people can become so socially isolated with just the abuser that often no one else sees them.”
Removing a victim from her current living situation is not necessarily the answer. Instead, Lachs and Karl Pillemer, the other co-author of the study and professor of gerontology at Weill Cornell Medicine, contend that a multidisciplinary team may be one of the best answers for combatting abuse. Such a team might include:
- Social workers;
- District attorneys; and
With such teams in place, victims of elder abuse may be able to get the help they need to get out of an abusive situation and to hold their abusers accountable. The authors of the study argue that every city in America should creative a multidisciplinary team if we want to make strides in stopping elder abuse and neglect.
See Related Blog Posts: