America has an enormous problem that is often ignored or under-reported. It is elder abuse: the physical, psychological or sexual harm, neglect or financial exploitation of vulnerable older people. Elder abuse in all its forms is ugly, painful, costly and just wrong. The problem is also bigger than most people realize: the Huffington Post reports an estimated one in 10 older people experiences some abuse every year.
The most common form of abuse is financial exploitation, what Richard Cordray, director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has called "the signature crime of the 21st century." Perpetrated by family, "friends," and unregistered and unscreened caregivers and predatory outsiders.
Elder abuse experts say a critical challenge is that abuse " flies under the radar." Excuses abound, as does a lack of awareness and preparation. It gets excused - "she bruises so easily". Rationalized - "he was going to inherit that money soon anyway". Or, simply missed by good people in a position to help who didn't know what to look for, or how to intervene.
Elder abuse has devastating and far-reaching health consequences and triples the risk of premature death. Compared with their peers, victims of elder abuse are also three times more likely to be admitted to the hospital and four times more likely to be admitted to a nursing home.
"These things really jar your senses," says Lidia Vognar, MD, an expert on elder abuse. Vognar often works with Adult Protective Services, the agency primarily tasked with intervention in cases of reported abuse. "We must break down the taboos that surround elder abuse. There is no reason for anyone to be silent."