The National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA) recently tweeted a picture to remind that reconnecting with family during Thanksgiving weekend is not just a sentimental tradition, but a responsibility we have to our older relatives. Although senior citizens make up a growing segment of society (the U.S. Census Bureau projects that about 20 percent of residents of the United States will be 65 years and older in 2030) there is not a body of research or a high-profile public service campaign focused on elder abuse and neglect.
Despite involving a highly vulnerable population, the issue of elder abuse hardly makes for gripping headlines, nor is it the subject of tear-jerking television commercials imploring people to not turn away from the difficult images of neglected senior citizens. According to the report, Understanding Elder Abuse: New directions for developing theories of elder abuse occurring in domestic settings by Shelly L. Jackson and Thomas L. Hafemeister, the issue lacks the research funding and the backing of high profile organizations required to launch it to the forefront of public consciousness. Even the very definition of the word “elderly” is a source of debate as baby boomers don’t want to be reminded that they are getting older.
Without a powerful advocacy group or much data to plan and support a call to action, it is difficult to communicate the urgency of the problem to people bombarded near-daily with causes and foundations looking for more than just a sad story (this issue is not limited to interpersonal violence, there is a high-stakes battle for funding dollars among diseases). Also, as Jackson and Hafemeister discuss, there is not a widely accepted theory that explains the incidence of elder abuse and neglect. Several interpersonal explanations or socio-cultural approaches can be used to examine the issue, but there is not one prominent school of thought that illuminates what limited data are collected on the issue. Another factor that complicates presentation of the issue, is that there are several kinds of abuse and neglect and not all are violent (fraud, theft, self-neglect) or always intentional (neglect, isolation). The authors also point out that the victim of abuse and the relationship between abusing/neglectful caregiver and victim are not closely examined (not to in anyway blame a victim, but relationship dynamics – and the majority of elder caregivers are family members – are fraught with various factors one theory may not adequately capture).
Perhaps the reality of a projected 88.5 million adults over age 65 living in America in 2050 has prompted the need to explore the issue, as research collaborations have been formed through the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) to provide insight into this complex issue, identify evidence-based practices and guide policy formation. To learn more about protecting the elderly at home or in care facilities, resources for caregivers, and the signs of abuse or neglect visit the FAQ page at NECA or the NAPSA website.
Vincent, Grayson K. and Victoria A. Velkoff, 2010, THE NEXT FOUR DECADES, The Older Population in the United States: 2010 to 2050, Current Population Reports, P25-1138, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.
Jackson, Shelly L. and Thomas L. Hafemeister, 2013, Understanding Elder Abuse: New directions for developing theories of elder abuse occurring in domestic settings, National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC.