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Minding Our Elders: Elder abuse is an ever-present issue

Carol Bradley Bursack

DEAR READERS: I know that many of us feel somewhat overwhelmed by all of the designated days and months that are publicized in order to raise awareness about worthy causes. That knowledge, however, isn’t stopping me from writing about Elder Abuse Awareness Day which is June 15th. Elders are among our most vulnerable people, so it falls to all of us to note signs that could indicate abuse.

While many people would step in to stop obvious abuse, elder abuse is frequently missed because these elders are barely noticed by the busy people who surround them. Additionally, while it’s natural to think that most abuse is physical such as hitting, pinching or slapping, elder abuse is often emotional and/or financial.

Angry shouting is abuse. Treating an elder as useless or a burden is abuse. Not providing sufficient food or needed medication is abuse. Skimping on improved care to preserve an inheritance is abuse. Often these types of abuse have no witnesses.

Elder abuse can happen in any setting. In some areas of the country there are exceptionally bad nursing homes where neglect and abuse aren’t uncommon. Other nursing homes, such as the ones in our community where nursing homes are generally good, can still make a mistake by hiring an unknown abuser.

However, a significant amount of elder abuse occurs in home settings. When a family member provides care for an elder, even the best caregiver can be less than loving when pushed too far. In these cases, the family needs help from inside resources or outside agencies to give the caregiver a break and perhaps provide education.

More disturbing are the families that deliberately keep elders isolated and neglected in the house while exploiting them financially by collecting the elders’ Social Security checks and using other assets for themselves. This type of abuse often goes unnoticed because in such cases the elder is rarely seen by doctors, social workers or others who could report signs of unexplained ill health, physical injuries or neglect.

Be aware that simply because you hear your neighbor’s mother wailing loudly on a regular basis doesn’t mean the mother is being abused, so investigate the situation before you accuse anyone. Chat with your neighbor. Offer a helping hand or simply suggest that you get together for coffee.

You may discover in this context that the elder has Alzheimer’s, which can cause this type of wailing. If you can’t be certain that there is no abuse, you can call adult protective services, but do try to research the issue first unless you feel the situation is such that immediate intervention is needed.

Elders should be seen by outside caregivers or medical people regularly, so complete isolation of an elder is cause for concern.

If you aren’t sure that a particular elder is well cared for, you can call social services and ask for a welfare check. If you witness abuse call the police so that the elder can be removed from the abusive environment.

Let June 15th serve as a reminder to watch out for our elderly population, but make it a point to be aware every day. This vulnerable person could be your mother, your father or your grandparent. You don’t want to ignore something so terrible.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at She can be reached at