“Elder Abuse & Families” by Cynthia Benzler
ELDER ABUSE AND FAMILIES
By: Cynthia Benzler, Executive Director
The public is familiar with news stories about scam artists who target the elderly, and video camera have captured the images of robbers ruthlessly attaching the elderly to steal purses or shopping bags. This leads people to perceive elder abuse as a crime committed by a stranger deliberately preying on an older person. But the uncomfortable truth is that 70 to 80 percent of elder abuse is committed within the family by adult children, grandchildren, spouses, and intimate partners.
Elder abuse occurs in families for different reasons. Drugs or alcohol may be involved. Mental illness can be a factor. Or, adult children caring for a formerly abusive parent may become abusers themselves.
The abuse can be deliberate. Deliberate abusers are bullies who find vulnerable elders perfect targets for aggression that makes the abuser feel powerful and in control.
The abuse may be unintentional. Unintentional abusers are normally caring individuals who are angry, frustrated, and unable to cope. They do not understand the changes which are taking place that make an aging loved one thoughtless, forgetful, or inattentive. The unintentional abuser tries to maintain the familiar relationship but gets lost as age-related changes or the onset of dementia causes shifts in the relationship.
Family members need to act as sentinels for aging loved ones who cannot protect themselves. Behaviors to watch for amount family members include impatience or anger with the elder, yelling or swearing, or handling the elder in a rough manner. An abusive family member may suddenly become indifferent to the elder or possessive toward the elder’s belongings.
If abuse is suspected, the family needs to make sure the abuser has no contact with the elder. Because the abuser is a family member, it is difficult to call the authorities. But this is the best step to take. For the safety of the elder must come first. Most cities have an Adult Protective Services agency that will respond to calls from family members. This is the first step toward recovery for both the family and the elder.