Not long ago, child abuse was an issue in the shadows, a problem that was rarely talked about, and in some cases quietly tolerated. Awareness campaigns helped bring attention to the problem, sent a clear message that mistreating children is not okay, gave people the resources to respond to suspected abuse, and gave some victims the courage to speak up.
Today, there is a growing threat of abuse on the other side of the age spectrum. Our Panama City elder abuse law firm hopes to bring attention to the problem, and by doing so, prevent abuse and protect victims. We also work directly with elder abuse victims, and in some cases with their loved one, to advocate for them and give them the financial resources to move to a safer situation.
A question we get often, and a question we have pondered at length ourselves, is "Why do people abuse the elderly?" In looking at why elder abuse occurs, we turned to a report from the American Psychological Association ("APA"). In "Elder Abuse and Neglect: In Search of Solutions," the APA notes that the majority of elder abuse cases occur in the home with the abuser being either another household member or a paid caregiver.
Most cases of abuse are much more subtle than the extreme headline-grabbing instances, with the distinction between a strained relationship and abuse being difficult to pinpoint. Focusing on these cases, the APA notes that cause is complex and case-specific, but that there are typically three factors that lead to elder abuse.
An aging, ill family member can place significant stress on the family as a unit. Particular stressors include having a parent move in to an existing household and dealing with the financial repercussions. In some cases, abuse is unintentional and non-willful, with a caregiver simply not understanding the elder's needs. Families may also play out old patterns, with prior domestic violence leading to elder abuse by the same abuser, or even directed against that former abuser as someone "turns the table" on a now-weakened perpetrator. Social isolation can be a sign of a struggling family and can also add to the risk of abuse because it cuts victims off from potential help.
The stress of caregiving, combined with other stresses, can be a trigger for abuse. Additional stress may result if the elderly person's cognitive struggles cause the patient to act in an aggressive manner. Untrained caregivers may fall back on physical force to help control difficult behavior. Similarly, a lack of training and resources can give rise to neglect, and financial exploitation may result where the caregiver is financially dependent on the elderly person. Caregivers in these cases may feel guilt and embarrassment, keeping the caregiver from reaching out for help.
Social norms may prevent people from intervening in what many deem a family matter. Gender roles and other cultural factors can also impact family dynamics, creating an abusive situation. Victims may also remain silent about abuse due to cultural pressures. Helping those who work with the elderly identify when a "cultural thing" crosses the line can help limit abuse.
One lesson that is clear from the APA study and our own work is that not all abusers fit the cookie-cutter image of real-life monsters. The above listed items are just some of the factors that may turn the "person next-door" into an abuser. However, it is important to recognize that explanations are NOT excuses. Understanding the factors leading to elder abuse is key because it can help people spot abuse and help organizations tailor prevention/outreach efforts. Understanding the "Why" does not change the crucial point that elder abuse is wrong.
If you suspect abuse or are being victimized yourself, speak up. One useful resource site is the Center for Disease Control's Elder Abuse Prevention page. Our Panama City victims' law firm is also here to help. We can assist you in bringing a civil damages lawsuit against the abuser, a claim that can result in monetary damages that give the victim options and allow the victim to move into a safer living situation.