The United Nations designated June 15th as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to raise awareness of abuse and mistreatment experienced by our vulnerable older population. Elder abuse and mistreatment is often hidden in families. Across the United States, family members are the most likely to abuse the older adults in their care.
Types of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is the deliberate mistreatment or neglect of older adults and can happen in many different ways. The most common type of abuse is financial. Financial abuse happens when someone uses an older adult’s assets, steals, or misuses credit without the knowledge or permission of the older adult. Another commonly reported type of abuse is physical. Physical abuse consists of acts that cause pain, injury, or impairment. Another common type of abuse is neglect. Neglect happens when the needs of an older adult are not met. Sometimes, an older adult will fail to meet their own needs. Psychological abuse is threats and humiliation directed towards the older adult.
Risk Factors for Elder Abuse in Fresno County
In the Central Valley and Fresno area many of our older adults are at risk for experiencing elder abuse and mistreatment. One of the risk factors for abuse is increasing age. Our population is aging rapidly and the Central Valley is one of the fastest aging regions in California. Most pressing, is the growth of the oldest population, those persons 80 and older. Persons over the age of 80 become increasingly frail. It is dependency on others which makes them vulnerable to abuse.
Another risk factor is low income. Fresno County has one of the highest levels of senior poverty in the state. Twelve percent of older adults are living below the federal poverty level. Sixty percent of seniors depend on Social Security for the majority of their income. Seniors relying primarily on Social Security often have difficulty finding safe, secure, and reasonable housing, paying for out-of-pocket medical and over the counter expenses, and affording transportation and food.
Poor health and memory loss are also risk factors for elder abuse. Health challenges are common among Fresno elders. Over a third report being in fair to poor health, and 40% have difficulty with walking or other physical limitations. Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are growing at an alarming rate.
Difficulty speaking English is another risk factor. In Fresno, half of the older population is non-white. Twenty-five percent are Hispanic. Almost a third of older immigrant adults have difficulty speaking and understanding English.
Fresno’s older population is growing rapidly and increasing in diversity. Compared to current older adults, more Baby Boomers will be living alone without large families who can support them in later life. Increasingly older adults are expressing desire to stay at home, even as they struggle with chronic health conditions and functional limitations. For many older adults, income and savings will be limited. There will be an increasing need for lower to middle income housing options, and cost-effective solutions to provide social and medical support to those aging in place. As the population in Fresno ages, the Fresno community will need to redefine aging and develop new approaches to support a population increasingly characterized by diversity.