Elder Abuse: An Age-Old Issue in the US

Elder Abuse: An Age-Old Issue in the US

Elder abuse, senior abuse, vulnerable adult abuse—no matter what moniker you choose to use, it is still a growing epidemic in one of the world’s richest country.  In the US, Americans fear getting older; while seniors in other countries are revered.  For many years I thought it was ridiculous to fear getting older, since getting older means you’re still living.  But after nearly two decades working with vulnerable adults, I understand why the fear exists.

The National Center on Aging reported that 1 in 10 older adults is abused, while only 1 in 14 is reported.   Now, why is that?  The senior population is considered the “silent generation”; one that does not share much. Do you know the old saying, “What goes on in the house, stays in the house?”  Our seniors follow this saying like it is the law of the land.  There are also more tangible factors to consider, such as fear and unawareness.

Because the number one perpetrator of elder abuse is a family member (adult children/spouse), seniors are afraid to report the abuse because they don’t want their loved one incriminated.  And if that family member is also the caregiver, they fear being left alone with a possibility of out-of-home placement (i.e. nursing home). One thing we know about our seniors is that they want to remain in their own home for as long as possible.  Lastly, seniors do not realize they are being abused. 

Financial exploitation is the most common type of elder abuse, but sometimes the most difficult to prove due to the reliance on seniors’ testimonies to confirm or deny that the perpetrator is actually stealing from him/her; and because they are unaware that they are being abused, seniors tend to not confirm.  But, this shouldn’t deter anyone from advocating for the rights and protection of our seniors.  So, what should you do?

If you have reason to believe that a vulnerable adult is being abused, neglected, or exploited you should report it to the investigative agency.  If you are a mandated reporter, you must report all incidents in which you believe a vulnerable adult is being harmed within 24 hours of learning of the incident to the investigative agency. In the state of South Carolina, there are 3 investigative agencies that usually investigate cases of elder abuse:

    • The Vulnerable Adults Investigations Unit (VAIU) of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED)
    • The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCO)
    • The Adult Protective Services Program (APS) of the Department of Social Services (DSS)

SLED investigates alleged abuse cases that occur in residential facilities operated by the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.

LTCO investigates alleged abuse cases that occur in nursing homes, assisted living, and community residential care homes.

APS investigates alleged abuse cases that occur in various locations in the community.

When you don’t know who to call, just call someone.  With efforts underway to establish a Vulnerable Adult Abuse Registry in SC, we all have a role to play to ensure this comes to fruition and to ensure our seniors age on purpose and not in fear.

National Council on Aging. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/