Journal of Gerontological Nursing

Editorial 

Stop Abuse of the Elderly

Anna M Brock, MEd, PhD

Abstract

An 85-year-old man lives with his daughter and son-in-law. When the daughter and her husband leave for work in the morning, they lock the old man out of the house. He spends his days wandering aimlessly, picking through garbage cans, and urinating in neighbors' yards. When the daughter comes home from work, he is allowed in the house, but is locked in his bedroom until the next morning.

This case is just one of many involving elderly victims of an often-denied social disease-the abuse and neglect of the elderly. According to many reports, abuse of the elderly is serious and growing, but almost totally ignored. Only in the past two years has there been an attempt to systematically explore the extent of elderly abuse in this country. Studies have been done in Delaware, Michigan, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Washington, DC. Investigators have documented hundreds of horror stories of repeated physical battering, sexual abuse, intentional over-medication, psychological torment, financial exploitation, and forced confinement of the elderly by their own families. Additionally, these studies report that the most common types of abuse are neglect and abandonment.

There is a parallel between the present lack of awareness and legislation against the elderly and society's ignorance of child abuse 20 years ago. Elderly victims of abuse and neglect are hesitant to seek help. They won't leave the abusive home because it is their only security and they feel that they have no where else to go. There is also some sense too, that by admitting anything they have failed as parents. Many elderly victims of abuse are like children. They are frail, dependent, and vulnerable.

Eleven states have protective services laws that require anyone who suspects an elderly person of being abused to report the situation to a central office. These laws are patterned after similar mandatory reporting laws for child abuse, which have been credited with bringing that problem into the open. In several other states, laws have been introduced and defeated. Nurses in states where these laws are being introduced, or where there is no law, need to write their legislators. Mandatory reporting laws are crucial because they provide social services with the legal authority to investigate and intervene in cases where abuse is suspected. Without such laws, many cases of suspected abuse will go undiagnosed because there isno way to substantiate theabuse. Many cases are never detected. Lots of old people will just die of natural causes. I wonder how natural some of them are. Write your legislator.…

An 85-year-old man lives with his daughter and son-in-law. When the daughter and her husband leave for work in the morning, they lock the old man out of the house. He spends his days wandering aimlessly, picking through garbage cans, and urinating in neighbors' yards. When the daughter comes home from work, he is allowed in the house, but is locked in his bedroom until the next morning.

This case is just one of many involving elderly victims of an often-denied social disease-the abuse and neglect of the elderly. According to many reports, abuse of the elderly is serious and growing, but almost totally ignored. Only in the past two years has there been an attempt to systematically explore the extent of elderly abuse in this country. Studies have been done in Delaware, Michigan, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Washington, DC. Investigators have documented hundreds of horror stories of repeated physical battering, sexual abuse, intentional over-medication, psychological torment, financial exploitation, and forced confinement of the elderly by their own families. Additionally, these studies report that the most common types of abuse are neglect and abandonment.

There is a parallel between the present lack of awareness and legislation against the elderly and society's ignorance of child abuse 20 years ago. Elderly victims of abuse and neglect are hesitant to seek help. They won't leave the abusive home because it is their only security and they feel that they have no where else to go. There is also some sense too, that by admitting anything they have failed as parents. Many elderly victims of abuse are like children. They are frail, dependent, and vulnerable.

Eleven states have protective services laws that require anyone who suspects an elderly person of being abused to report the situation to a central office. These laws are patterned after similar mandatory reporting laws for child abuse, which have been credited with bringing that problem into the open. In several other states, laws have been introduced and defeated. Nurses in states where these laws are being introduced, or where there is no law, need to write their legislators. Mandatory reporting laws are crucial because they provide social services with the legal authority to investigate and intervene in cases where abuse is suspected. Without such laws, many cases of suspected abuse will go undiagnosed because there isno way to substantiate theabuse. Many cases are never detected. Lots of old people will just die of natural causes. I wonder how natural some of them are. Write your legislator.

10.3928/0098-9134-19800401-04

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