As Society Ages, the Potential for Elder Abuse Increases
Call it a natural by-product of the increasingly staggering numbers of the post-Boomer elderly in this country. Call it a failure of certain community social safety nets to account for those seniors who fall through the fiscal cracks. Or simply chalk it up to serious lapses in collective social judgment in our interpersonal culture. One very serious fact you can count on is that the financial, physical, and mental/emotional exploitation of the elderly in this country is here to stay — and is becoming a more prevalent problem daily.
The number of Americans 65 and over is projected to nearly double by 2030 because of the 74 million baby boomers born in 1946-64, and the number of people 85 and over is increasing at an even faster rate. The number of seniors being abused, exploited or neglected every year is often estimated at about 2 million, judging by available statistics and surveys, but experts say the number could be much higher. Some research indicates that 1 in 10 seniors have suffered some form of abuse at least once.
There’s no doubt the number is a much larger one. It has been estimated that for every 1 case of the exploitation of seniors in the U.S., at least 5 go unreported. Try multiplying that by the number of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to get a broader idea of the scope of this unnecessary societal pathology. The fiscal supports of many community-based assistance programs for the elderly have been slashed in the recent austerity bills passed in Congress in the past few years since reform was signed into law by the president.
It is often the unspeakable stories of abuse and neglect of seniors that represents the ends to the troublesome recession-heavy means that are plaguing society as a whole. These accounts are often the invisible tales of those affected by mass foreclosures, cost-of-living deficits in the wake of spiraling healthcare costs, and the loss of service sector jobs in an economy that is struggling to right itself.
Add to that the cost of bringing these deplorable cases to litigation, and the efforts to utilize appropriate medical, legal, and ethics specialists needed to formulate just treatments under the law — and it is easy to understand why even reported cases are underrepresented, much less prosecuted. With the promise of increased access on the horizon for young and old alike, the one bright spot among this dark cloud is the increased awareness certain advocacy groups are bringing to medical education, community preparation, and societies of aging in many areas nationwide.
Michael L. Douglas, MD, MBA is the editor and proprietor of Doctor Pundit, one of the blogosphere's leading physician blogs and healthcare policy blogs. He is a geriatrician and board-certified family physician who serves as the clinical director of long term care services at the Saint Peter (MN) Regional Treatment Center, the state's inpatient forensic psychiatric facility. Dr. Douglas is ...