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Elder Abuse Myths

By Jack H. FarnbauchNovember 5, 2017

Elder abuse can be a difficult subject to think about but it is something that can definitely benefit from increased awareness. Elder abuse is more common than you might think. It is crucial to learn to spot the warning signs and what you can do to help. Here are some things to know about elder abuse.

Myth number one: It will be obvious when someone is physically abused. This is false. “People can twist somebody’s arm or something similar and leave no marks,” said Kate Wilber, a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, whose research has focused in part on elder abuse. Also, some people may interpret bruises and other physical signs as the result of age-related issues, such as an increased risk of falls. Or an older adult who is being denied food may lose weight, but loved ones and even doctors may assume that’s due to other physical ailments.

Myth number two: If older people say they are not being abused, it didn’t happen. This is false and many elder abuse victims decide not to tell anyone what happened to them, experts say. Wilber noted that many don’t report the abuse because they are afraid of getting a loved one in trouble. Some don’t report the truth because they worry the alternative — such as going to a nursing home — would be worse. “That’s a huge fear that people have,” Wilber said.

Myth number three: Elder abuse is no big deal. One in 10 older adults in the U.S. is abused, according to the 2010 National Elder Mistreatment Study. Wilber and several colleagues published another study on how common elder abuse is, calling it “a serious human rights violation that requires urgent action.” Elder abuse also can have serious health consequences for victims, including increased risk of disease, death, institutionalization and hospital admission, their study said.

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