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September 7, 2023

6 Reasons Why Elder Abuse Goes Unreported

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A senior man wearing a denim shirt looks out the window on a cloudy day.

1 in 10 seniors in the United States will experience elder abuse. This all-too-common tragedy impacts aging adults over age 60 at home and in retirement communities throughout the country. Despite its prevalence, only an estimated 1 in 24 cases will be reported to the authorities.

Because elder abuse can too frequently go unnoticed or unreported, it’s vital that mandated reporters understand the barriers that may prevent elder abuse from being reported and that prevent seniors from getting the support they need.

What Barriers Prevent Elder Abuse from Being Reported

The Abuse Victim Is Unable to Report Abuse

Seniors may be dealing with unique health risks that can make them unable to report abuse. For example, conditions such as dementia, memory loss, speech or communication limitations, and confusion can all make it challenging for seniors to seek help when they suffer from abuse or neglect.

More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Because dementia can pose a severe barrier to seeking the help that an abuse victim needs, mandated reporters and other loved ones need to know how to recognize the signs of abuse.

The Senior Is Isolated from Their Community

Perpetrators of abuse can take steps to isolate a victim from family members, friends, and other community members, making it more difficult for their loved ones to recognize and report abuse.

Tactics used to isolate a victim of elder abuse and prevent them from receiving support can include preventing a senior from using their phone or participating in community activities like church and volunteering. This isolation can be incredibly profound, especially if the person abusing a senior is their caregiver; they may feel they have nowhere else to turn.

The Senior May Be Ashamed to Report Abuse

A senior experiencing elder abuse may be ashamed or embarrassed to tell someone that someone they love or trust is hurting them or taking advantage of them. This can be especially true if they have been a victim of a monetary scam or if they were sexually abused, according to Stanford Medicine.

Because aging adults may be reluctant to make a report themselves, it is crucial for the loved ones and professionals in their lives to understand how to recognize and report mistreatment.

They Feel Protective of the Abuser

46.8% of reported cases of elder abuse are perpetrated by a family member, according to a 2020 survey of 660 reported instances. Because the abuser can often be a loved one, those suffering abuse may feel a sense of protectiveness for the perpetrator.

This can especially be true if the abuser is the senior’s partner or an adult child. Those suffering elder abuse may worry that the abuser may go to prison or become homeless if they file a report.

The Victim Depends on the Abuser for Care

In 20.6% of 660 elder abuse cases, the abuser was a non-family caregiver. 12.9% were medical caregivers, and 7.7% were non-medical, in addition to cases where the abuser may have been a family member and a caregiver.

Seniors depend on their caregivers for essential support and care, and some may lack the resources to seek alternative care. Because of this, these seniors may be vulnerable to abuse because they depend on the abuser.

Fearing Retaliation

Older adults may fear being alone, losing their independence, injury, or even death if they try to leave their situation or seek help. They may also fear that if they report a caregiver for abuse or neglect, their caregiver may retaliate against them and make their suffering worse.

There are many barriers in place that may make it difficult or overwhelming for a victim of elder abuse or their loved ones to report suspected mistreatment. It’s vital that mandated reporters of elder abuse understand their responsibilities and know how to recognize and report mistreatment when it occurs. Learn more about what it means to be a mandated reporter of elder and dependent adult abuse.

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