The hidden shame of elder abuse

Behind the doors of our communities throughout America lies a hidden shame as well as daily criminal acts called elder abuse.   These crimes are committed on our most vulnerable and dependent elderly – those with dementia, Parkinson’s, unable to walk, oftentimes bedridden, and unable to cry out in pain.

Even more horrific are the abuses and neglects which occur in the “sanitized” corridors of the for-profit nursing homes throughout the country.   Representing only 3-5% of older persons, this small representation is the most vulnerable and most dependent due to physical, mental, and disabling conditions, where “home” is now one room in a facility with oftentimes little or no visitation.

While not everyone who has a caregiver at home or resides in facilities is being abused, the national data estimates that at least 6% of all older persons are being or have regularly been abused in a given year – often on a daily basis.   With not every single act of abuse being reported, this percentage in actuality is even higher on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.

Acts of abuse fall into five separate major categories:   physical, psychological, neglect, sexual, and financial exploitation.   In the cases that I have investigated, more often than not, there are several forms of abuse occurring on a regular basis to the same victim.

Who are the abusers?

When one mentally conjures up an abuser in their mind, a picture of a stranger who is dirty, smelly, and physically overpowering comes to mind – someone with bad teeth, smelly breath, and greasy hair.    This type of portrayal could not be any further than the truth of what a real abuser looks like.

Abusers are adult children – both female and male – as well as the victim’s own husband or wife.   Abusers are other family members who are now caring for their dependent aunt, uncle or relative.   Abusers are close friends or neighbors who now have power of attorney and/or guardianship or in some cases, professionals who have handled the victim’s finances/legal affairs or other professional service for years.   Abusers in nursing homes often are other residents but also cloak themselves in the air of authority as registered nurses, LPNs, and direct care aides.   One step removed we find directors of nursing, managers, and owners failing to report incidents to the police as well as to federal/state authorities so that the reputation of the facility or financial gains will not be compromised

Thus abusers are those with power and control over the dependent older victim – power to give or take away basic needs in life, power to assault, power to improperly obtain monies, power to psychologically abuse the victim as well as the power to neglect:   failure to bathe, allow to go to the toilet, or feed.  One other abuse is considered taboo but happens more frequently than most would acknowledge or even fathom:   the abuse of sexual assault and molestation where private agency carers rape older victims in the shower, nursing home aides insert objects into resident’s vaginas and/or anal passages, or bedridden dementia residents are raped by aides who take advantage of their not being able to call out in pain or make a complaint.

We all scream out in disgust and scream for justice to be done about children who are molested and abused but where is the similar cry about our vulnerable, dependent elderly in these same types of conditions and horrific criminal acts?  Where is the justice for these victims who cannot cry out in pain or call for help, who oftentimes are suffering from late stages of dementia, who are easy prey to sexual predators, and who suffer indignities day in and day out without being believed?   Where are their justice and protections under the law?

Lillian Jeter is an elder abuse specialist who can be reached on her self-titled site, Lillian Jeter.

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