What is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

by Natasha Pietrocola , DSAS’ Deputy Administrator, Adult Protective Services, Centralized Intake and Information Services

hand holding an elderly handWorld Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was conceived on June 15, 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. WEAAD aims to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic, and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect. In addition, WEAAD is held in support of the UN International Plan of Action acknowledging the significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue. This observance serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Some estimates range as high as 5 million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.

Abusers are both women and men. In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.

In Cuyahoga County, Adult Protective Services is one of the programs available at the Division of Senior and Adult Services. Per the Ohio Revised Code, the mandate states we are given the authority to investigate allegations of those 60 and older who reside in a community setting when there is an impairment and an allegation of abuse, neglect, self-neglect, and/or exploitation present warranting such action. We conduct many investigations where there are multiple allegations.

Types of abuse and what they entail includes:

  • Physical abuse - inflicting physical pain or injury upon an older adult. It also includes unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or cruel punishment with resulting physical harm.
  • Sexual abuse - touching, fondling, intercourse, or any other sexual activity with an older adult, when the older adult is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened, or physically forced.
  • Emotional abuse - verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, or intimidation.
  • Neglect / Self Neglect - when a caregiver; or adult themselves; fails to provide an older adult /self with life’s necessities, including, but not limited to, food, clothing, shelter, or medical care. Neglect can occur unintentionally and also include willful deprivation where there is a purposeful denying an older adult medication, medical care, shelter, food, a therapeutic device, or other physical assistance, and exposing that person to the risk of physical, mental, or emotional harm—except when the older, competent adult has expressed a desire to go without.
  • Financial exploitation - the unlawful or improper act of a person using, in one or more transactions, an adult or an adult’s resources for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain when the person obtained or exerted control over the adult or the adult’s resources in any of the following ways:
    1. Without the adult’s consent or the consent of the person authorized to give consent on the adult’s behalf;
    2. Beyond the scope of the expressed or implied consent of the adult or the person authorized to give consent on the adult’s behalf;
    3. By deception;
    4. By threat;
    5. By intimidation

You may wonder what makes an older adult more susceptible to abuse. We know that Social isolation and mental impairment (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease ) are two factors. Recent studies show that nearly half of those with dementia experienced abuse or neglect. Interpersonal violence also occurs at disproportionately higher rates among adults with disabilities.

Elders who have been abused have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated. While likely under-reported, estimates of elder financial abuse and fraud costs to older Americans range from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion annually. Yet, financial exploitation is self-reported at rates higher than emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect.

Warning signs we can all be vigilant of and be on the look out for include the following for each type of abuse:

  • Physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment: Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, burns
  • Emotional abuse: Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, or unusual depression; strained or tense relationships; frequent arguments between the caregiver and older adult
  • Financial exploitation: Sudden changes in financial situation, inability to purchase needed items despite having the financial means to do so, delinquent bills, unexplained transactions
  • Neglect: Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss, malnutrition
  • Verbal or emotional abuse: Belittling, threats, or other uses of power and control by individuals

The Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services (DSAS) is creating awareness with a series of articles and virtual events throughout the month of June. Visit DSAS’ website at https://hhs.cuyahogacounty.us/divisions/detail/senior-and-adult-services to learn more about World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and for a complete calendar of events.

If you suspect an older adult is being subjected to elder abuse, please contact our centralized intake at 216-420-6700 to make a report. We can all make a difference in combatting this public health concern that affects so many of our older citizens.