Ahhh. . . the golden years. But for many people, living to a ripe old age can be fraught with uncertainty and anxiety.
"How many times have I told you-if you don't turn the volume down on that TV, old hag, I'll put you in a nursing home!"
This is just one type, and degree, of elder abuse--a social issue of concern around the globe but of particular interest to the UC College of Nursing's Center for Aging with Dignity. The center was created in 2004 by nursing dean Andrea Lindell, PhD, to safeguard the natural and human rights of older Americans.
Recently, center directors presented "The ABCs of Elder Abuse" at Senior Safety Day in Franklin, Ohio, an annual event hosted by the Warren County Safe Aging Coalition (WCSAC). The coalition, a collaboration between the UC College of Nursing and the county, was born out of a UC student nursing project.
"It's a wonderful venue to work with community agencies and first responders who share our interest and passion for safeguarding older adults," says Charles Puchta, the UC Center for Aging with Dignity director.
Much like child abuse, no one knows exactly how many older Americans suffer from the many different types of elder abuse at the hands of family, caregivers or complete strangers. Organizations such as the National Center on Elder Abuse estimate between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited or otherwise mistreated by someone they depend on for care or protection.
What is known for certain is that the elderly are an increasingly vulnerable population at great risk of abuse to differing degrees--from getting yelled at to being knocked around or tricked into financial ruin--because the abuse goes largely under-reported.
Puchta says: "We find that people either don't recognize the mistreatment as abuse or lack the access, ability or willingness to report the abuse. They may even feel shamed or embarrassed that they, as adults, have been abused, exploited or mistreated."
The likelihood of abuse increases with age, he says, because older adults face new and often unexpected circumstances that result from natural age-related changes such as loss of vision, hearing and mobility. Likewise, age-related health problems affecting cognitive and physical function compound the potential for mistreatment.
"Older adults whose finances and material possession are exploited oftentimes experience significant emotional, mental and physical effects which diminish health and often result in a serious public health problem," says Evelyn Fitzwater, DSN, associate director of the center.
The center, Fitzwater says, is trying to increase awareness of what constitutes elder abuse, when and how to report a suspected case and is also teaching the next generation of nurses to care for a growing older population.
"Being part of the Warren County Safe Aging Coalition is a tangible way our students, faculty and center can work with a broad array of social services agencies, law enforcement and the judicial system to address, systematize and help prevent a significant and growing problem," says Lindell. "Unfortunately elder abuse, exploitation and mistreatment often forces people into a marginal existence with little or no time to recover."
For more information about the Center for Aging with Dignity, upcoming events, or to download free podcasts on aging or information on "The ABC's of Elder Abuse," visit nursing.uc.edu/ careadvocate.htm.
To contact the Center for Aging with Dignity by phone, call (513) 558-2428.
To report an instance of suspected elder abuse, call your local Adult Protective Services (APS) hotline. In Hamilton County, call (513) 421-LIFE (5433).
In Warren County, call (513) 695-1280. To find contact information for the APS in any county across the country, call the ElderCare Locator at (800) 677-1116 or visit eldercare.gov.