Elder abuse is a serious problem. In Arizona, between 4,600 and 6,900 seniors will experience some type of abuse each year. Reports of abuse have increased 150% over the last decade. Older adults may become vulnerable due to isolation, physical or mental disabilities and dependence on others for assistance. This vulnerability makes them easy targets for physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, financial exploitation and fraud. Abuse always occurs when there are no witnesses.
Older seniors and those very dependent on others are the most frequent victims. Most victims of abuse are Caucasian (75%) and female (63%). Some victims live alone (35%) and some with family (27%).
Elderly victims are often reluctant to report abuse because they feel ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated, afraid, and may even defend the abuser. That is because perpetrators of abuse are generally family members (28%), caregivers (17%), or friends and neighbors (7%). Victims frequently rely on the abuser for some type of caregiving services at home and are afraid if the abuse is reported they will be placed in a nursing home. Some victims are actually able to convince themselves that they deserve the abuse or exploitation. Authorities estimate that the number of abuse cases that are reported represents only 25% of the cases that actually occur.
The most prevalent type of abuse referred to law enforcement is financial exploitation and fraud. The most common characteristics of victims of fraud and exploitation are that they are gregarious (need interaction), compulsive (cannot pass up a good deal), have a sense of machismo (believe they cannot be fooled), vulnerable (have experienced a recent trauma) and naïve (they want to believe everything they have been told is true).
There is a compelling need to make all seniors aware of how to protect themselves from violence, abuse and exploitation. Family, friends, volunteers, caregivers and employees of financial institutions must learn to recognize the signs of elder abuse or exploitation, the questions to ask the victim to verify that abuse has occurred, and where to go for help from law enforcement and Arizona Adult Protective Services.