Elder Abuse Among Aging Caregivers

Elder abuse is more common than one might think; approximately one in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of abuse.

It is a critical public health issue that results in poor health outcomes and increased mortality among older adults. But older caregivers, those providing care to a younger loved one or otherwise, also experience a unique type of treatment. While studies show that elder abuse occurs in various forms, from physical to financial, psychological, and social, what plagues older caregivers is relational trauma. This type of trauma refers to trauma within a close relationship, usually with a caregiver.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, older adults are increasingly serving as caregivers to others, which may increase their risk of adverse interpersonal experiences. The study analyzed caregiving (assisting another adult with day-to-day activities) and experience of elder mistreatment of caregivers across different domains. The study also examined the link between being the primary caregiver (rather than a secondary carer) and each domain of mistreatment among older caregivers. Interestingly, older caregivers were associated with experiencing emotional and financial mistreatment after age 60, and those who served as primary rather than secondary caregivers for other adults had over two-fold increased odds of emotional mistreatment. As the study implied, this is due to potential problems in interpersonal relationships.

As research has shown, elder abuse can happen in families and institutions of care, places where it should not happen. It also continues to be a global problem and can seriously diminish the quality of life of older caregivers. Victims become more confused, frail, and unhappy with their circumstances as they are abused and exploited. If not checked, elder abuse can persist despite policy recommendations, health interventions, etc. The significance of this problem as a public health and human rights issue has been acknowledged by the United Nations International Plan of Action, but it should not stop there.

Raising awareness of this issue through education, empowerment, and advocacy is one step in helping reduce elder abuse, but developing a shift in mindset is the first step toward culture change.[1]

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs works in conjunction with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Adult Protective Services and the Aging Network to protect disabled adults or elderly persons from further occurrences of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Services provided may include protective supervision, placement and in-home and community-based services. To report online – go to the DCF web site at Abuse Hotline | Florida DCF (myflfamilies.com).

To report by phone – call Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873). Press 2 to report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of a vulnerable adult. This toll free number is available 24/7. TTY (Telephone Device for the Deaf): 1-800-955-8771. To report via fax, please print and complete the DCF fax reporting form with details and fax to 1-800-914-0004.

[1] Sophie Okolo, MPH “The Other Side Of Elder Abuse. Here’s What Older Caregivers Face,” Forbes, Updated: Feb 5, 2023