It was originally called "granny bashing" when the first stories about elder abuse came out in the 1970s.
Since then, elder abuse has been identified as a serious social problem that is far more prevalent than most of us care to admit. According to the 2009 National Elder Mistreatment Survey, at least ten percent of elderly people living in American communities (4.3 million people) experience one or more forms of elder abuse each year. This can involve financial abuse by a family member (5.2 percent), financial abuse by a stranger (6.5 percent), emotional abuse (4.5 percent). or potential neglect by a caregiver (5.1 percent). More rarely, elder abuse can take the form of physical abuse (1.6 percent) and sexual abuse (0.6 percent) though these last two categories, along with emotional abuse, often go unreported by seniors.
Among the various reasons many elders have for not reporting what is happening to them are feelings of embarrassment, believing that they are somehow responsible for their abuse, fear of retaliation, fear of being placed in a nursing home, not believing that help is available for them, or simply accepting that long-term abuse is "the way it's always been" and just putting up with it. Even when people in the community, whether strangers or family members, become aware that the abuse is happening, they may often refuse to get involved believing there is nobody available to help.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.