Elder abuse “includes physical, sexual or psychological abuse, as well as neglect, abandonment, and financial exploitation of an older person by another person or entity, that occurs in any setting (e.g., home, community, or facility), either in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust and/or when an older person is targeted based on age or disability.” The statistics are staggering with approximately 5 million people in the U.S. affected. Research has shown that 1 in 10 elder adults living at home suffers abuse and about two-thirds of all victims are women. It is now recognized as a global problem that needs to be addressed by a multitude of people and organizations. These include health care systems, medical practitioners, social welfare agencies, policymakers, caregivers, and the general public. The widespread implications of elder abuse concern everyone involved in the care of the elderly.
The Elder Justice Roadmap Project was developed with five priorities critical to reduce elder abuse and to promote independence and justice. The five priorities are as follows: public awareness and coordinated responses in services, education, and policies, research on cognitive functions and mental health, caregiving, economics or costs of elder abuse, and increased resources. Experts and stakeholders were selected to implement these priorities and provide clinicians, educators, and researchers with resources to help the elderly who are experiencing any form of abuse or neglect. It also provides guidelines for the engagement and investment by policymakers to secure advancements in combating these issues at the local, state, and national levels.
The most important aspect relating to elder abuse is preventing it from occurring in the first place. Everyone involved in the care of the elderly, from family and friends to medical professionals, needs to be educated and made aware of the types and signs and symptoms of abuse. This was one of the top five priorities that the Roadmap considered crucial to understanding abuse. It is also essential for caregivers and the public to be made aware to allow the elderly to maintain their health and independence and to receive justice when infractions do occur.
Surprisingly, elder abuse and neglect occurs most often to the elderly in their own homes and in nursing homes where their physical and emotional well-being should be guaranteed. It is pervasive across all races, economic statuses, and genders and causes a downward spiral in their physical and emotional health causing undue suffering, and the risk of premature death triples when they suffer abuse. While child abuse has been in the spotlight for many years and laws and policies have pursued justice for all children, elder abuse has not received the same attention and policies and regulations have been slower to be passed. According to the Roadmap, elder abuse is grossly underreported and deserves as much attention paid to it as has child abuse.
Elder abuse is a complex issue for all parties involved in preventing and identifying it. The factors that are involved are numerous—a child abusing or neglecting a parent who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, a professional in a nursing home denying a patient medication or a treatment that has been prescribed by his/her physician, sexual abuse of a patient by another patient in a long-term facility—and that the interventions that are currently available to family, friends, professionals, and the public have not helped to decrease the number of people who are abused each year. The Roadmap has touched on some very sensitive and alarming issues that need to be addressed, and prevention, investigation, and interventions need to be broached with sensitivity to cultural norms.
The Elder Justice Roadmap was successful in its initiative to create partnerships between those who currently work in fields that already address elder abuse issues and critical allies in areas that are not directly related. While the problem of elder abuse is presently in a critical phase, it is encouraging that there are solutions available. This project is only the beginning of interventions that need to be created to reduce the suffering of those experiencing elder abuse. The priorities, first wave actions, and universal themes all have brought up important ways that those who are involved in the care of the elderly can begin to immediately address some of the more immediate issues. Those who were involved in the creation of this report agreed that there needs to be a continuation of the research and work already performed that includes the extension and coordination of the implementation of set goals, contacting policy-makers, those who can fund projects, and finally, to explore ways to continue pursuing the priorities that have already been identified. Communication between all parties needs to be maintained to continue with the success of this project.