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An Overlooked Epidemic: Elder Abuse During the Pandemic

Since COVID 19 first reached the United States more than 7 months ago, people throughout the country have been rightfully concerned about how shelter-in-place orders would affect people in abusive relationships and children who may be in an abusive or neglectful home. Being stuck at home with someone who abuses you can make it difficult to get the help you need, particularly if you are unable to get away to make a call to a hotline or even send a text to a loved one. At Blackburn Center, we have continued to provide services to victims and survivors of domestic violence throughout the pandemic.

While the threat of domestic violence and child abuse has loomed large during the pandemic, the potential for increasing levels of elder abuse was mostly overlooked. When it comes to older Americans, the focus has primarily been on protecting them from coronavirus — instead of ensuring that they are safe from people who may abuse or exploit them.

Elder abuse can take many forms, including:

  • Physical abuse

  • Neglect

  • Emotional or psychological abuse

  • Abandonment

  • Sexual abuse

  • Financial abuse or exploitation

According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse. Many of these cases are never reported to authorities, with one study estimating that just 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse are reported. Each year, approximately 5 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly are at greater risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation than ever before. To prevent the spread of the virus, visitors are prohibited from entering nursing home and long-term care facilities. As a result, residents of these facilities may be more vulnerable to elder abuse without family and friends to check in with them regularly and ensure that they are being taken care of and treated well.

For those older Americans who are in their own homes or living with family, elder abuse remains a serious issue. Many people over the age of 65 are staying home as much as possible to avoid contracting coronavirus, which makes them more isolated than ever. This gives people who abuse them more power and control, as older people are more dependent on their caretakers than they would have been pre-COVID.

According to experts, being locked in a house with a person who might be threatening, manipulating, or hurting them takes an already difficult situation and makes it that much worse. There have been some reports of caretakers using the pandemic for their own purposes, such as threatening the older person that unless they do what they say (like signing over a check), they will put them in a nursing home where they could contract the virus. The economic downturn may also provide a greater incentive for individuals to target older family members and friends for financial abuse.

It may be harder for older people to get help if they are being abused or exploited during the pandemic. In-person visits with healthcare providers have largely dwindled, and outside visitors to nursing homes are rare. Similarly, as noted above, families may not be visiting their loved ones at care centers or even in their own homes. As a result, many of the people who may report suspected abuse or neglect are unable to do so.

Even though many of us cannot see the older adults in our lives in person, we can still watch for signs of abuse. If your loved one becomes withdrawn, looks disheveled or unclean, stops taking part in activities that they enjoy, has unexplained cuts or bruises, displays signs of trauma, or shows another sign of abuse, try to talk to them about what is happening. If you are concerned about the possibility of elder abuse or believe that you are a victim of elder abuse, you can reach out to us any time: 1-888-832-2272. Our hotline is open 24 hours a day, and is always free of charge and confidential.


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