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  1. AGING
  2. Protection & Advocacy

What is abuse?

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Abuse of the elderly and adults with disabilities is the least recognized form of family violence.
*Abuse takes many forms, and in most cases victims are subjected to more than one type of mistreatment. In Illinois, 54% of adult abuse reports allege financial exploitation; approximately 23% allege physical abuse; 52% allege active or passive neglect; and 43% allege emotional abuse.
  • Physical Abuse – causing the infliction of physical pain or injury to an older person.

  • Sexual abuse – touching, fondling, or any other sexual activity with an older person when the older person is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened, or physically forced.

  • Emotional abuse – verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, or intimidation so as to compel the older person to engage in conduct from which she or he has a right to abstain or to refrain from conduct in which the older person has a right to engage.

  • Confinement – restraining or isolating an older person for other than medical reasons.

  • Passive neglect – the failure by a caregiver to provide an older person with the necessities of life including, but not limited to, food, clothing, shelter, or medical care, because of failure to understand the older person’s needs, lack of awareness of services to help meet needs, or lack of capacity to care for the older person.

  • Willful deprivation – willfully denying assistance to an older person who requires medication, medical care, shelter, food, therapeutic device, or other physical assistance, thereby exposing that person to the risk of harm.

  • Financial exploitation – the misuse or withholding of an older person’s resources to the disadvantage of the elderly person and/or the profit or advantage of another person.

  The Abuse...  

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could be...
  • an intentional or unintentional action by anyone;

  • caused by economic or emotional dependence of either the victim or the abuser; and/or

  • accepted by the family and society as a way of life.
Abuse can also be in the form of fraud. See the page, Looking Out for Fraud for more information.

  The Abuser...  

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  • is most often a family member – adult child, spouse, grandchild and other relative, but could be a non-relative caregiver;

  • may lose control due to the stress associated with caregiving;

  • may have an alcohol or substance abuse problem; and

  • may be frustrated or isolated.

Interventions must take into account, wherever possible, most seniors’ desire not to sever family ties.

  The Victim...  

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  • is most often a white female with an average age of 79;

  • may suffer from some form of dementia or physical impairment, often suffering from multiple disabilities which make him/her dependent on others for care;
  • tends to be isolated;

  • may suffer from more than one type of abuse;

  • may be reluctant to admit his/her loved one is an abuser; and

  • may be fearful of reporting abuse, thinking it could lead to further harm, nursing home placement or total abandonment.
These characteristics make intervening more complicated and cases more difficult.