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Jul 12, 2013 by |

Elder Abuse: The New Silent Epidemic?


Elder abuse has become a serious problem in America; according to some studies, the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) reports, up to 10% of seniors have been victims of at least one incident of abuse. This mistreatment can take a variety of forms, including neglect, physical, psychological, or emotional abuse, or financial exploitation. The latter is extremely common, with most cases of abuse including some form of mistreatment of the senior’s finances. Around 90% of elder abuse is perpetrated by a family member, but the incidence of abuse in nursing homes, perpetrated by a worker or another resident, is frighteningly high, particularly in California. For example, according to the California State Office of the Attorney General, nursing homes in this state are twice as likely to use physical restraints to control patients as nursing homes inAmerica as a whole.

Elder Abuse is Underreported

Elder abuse is worryingly common, but it may be more common than the statistics suggest. The NCEA’s figure of up to 10% includes only study participants who reported that they had experienced abuse, or whose abuse had been reported by someone else.  The NCEA suggests that this figure might only represent a small fraction of the true number of incidents, with most going unreported. Another study, known as the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, indicated that for every 24 incidents of self-reported abuse, only one was referred to an authority such as social services or law enforcement.

This means that most cases of elder abuse just aren’t getting reported, but it also means that when these incidents are reported, it’s all too common for the abuse to be ignored.

Many Abuse Victims Suffer in Silence

Often seniors are reluctant to report instances of abuse, sometimes for much the same reasons that any victim of abuse might hesitate to tell someone. Often, the person is afraid that some form of retaliation might occur, because they have been threatened with retaliation by their abuser, or simply because they are afraid of the abuser. Sometimes the victim is fearful of causing trouble; this is often the case with elder abuse because many older people worrying about becoming a burden as they lose their independence. In some cases, the victim of the abuse is unable to report the abuse due to a physical or cognitive impairment—and unfortunately, these people who are the least likely to report abuse are also the most likely to become victims. For example, people with dementia are thought to be particularly vulnerable. Several international studies have confirmed this, finding that up to two-thirds of such people had experienced at least one instance of abuse.

The Signs aren’t Always Easy to Spot

Another major reason why elder abuse is underreported is simply that it’s not always easy to recognize the signs of mistreatment. Again, this is particularly true of people with reduced cognitive ability: an abusive caregiver might explain away signs such as bruises by saying that the victim had an accident during a severe episode of dementia, for example. The question is, how often do these types of incidents occur? An isolated bruise is not necessarily a cause for alarm, but certain types of bruising are. For example, if a bruise is shaped like a handprint or fingerprints, or like a recognizable object, it might be a sign of physical abuse. This is especially true if there are both old and new bruises in the same location, as this is an indication that more than one incident has occurred.

Other hard-to-spot signs can be a result of neglect rather than directly abusive actions, and again, these might signs can prove to have a benign explanation. For example, hair loss is a natural sign of aging, but extreme or rapid hair loss, or loss of hair condition, can be a sign of abuse. Hair loss can occur as a sign of chronic stress, or alternatively, neglect of the victim’s hair might form part of the abusive pattern. In the latter case, other signs of physical neglect, such as bedsores, rashes, or other skin complaints, might also be apparent. Isolated incidents are common, especially for seniors who are inactive or unable to get out of bed, as this might restrict how often the person can bathe, and inactivity increases the risk of skin problems developing. However, when these types of skin conditions recur or don’t heal, it can be an indication of abuse.

The common thread with all of these signs is that while one single incident might not point to abuse, a pattern of incidents occurring over a length of time is often an indication that something has gone wrong.

Evans Law Firm, Inc. handles elder abuse, financial elder abuse, physical elder abuse, annuity fraud, consumer fraud class actions, insurance and banking fraud cases.  If you think that you have witnessed or are the victim of elder abuse, or financial fraud by a life insurance company, bank or individual then, contact the Evans Law Firm at 415-441-8669 for a free and confidential consultation, or email us at

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