The 2019 Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Elder Abuse Report reveals a little-talked-about issue. The number of complaints to Adult Protective Services rose by 17% in 2019. Studies have shown that for every known case of elder abuse, 24 go unnoticed.

The report shows that family members are most often the perpetrators of elder abuse. “Abusers are both women and men. In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses,” reads a separate report from the National Council on Aging. The Kentucky report found similar statistics: 32.5% of cases were committed by adult children and roughly 65% including other relatives and spouses.

Self-neglect is the most prevalent form of elder abuse, slightly more common than caregiver neglect and financial exploitation. The 2010 Elder Justice Act defined self-neglect as the “inability, due to physical or mental impairment or diminished capacity, to perform essential self-care.” Self-neglect can sometimes be difficult to spot and should be reported immediately. Per the National Institutes of Health, “Medical teams, mental health professionals, community educational programs, social workers, and agencies of financial service must also be included to address the depth of self-neglect issues.”

Caregiver neglect is another prominent source of elder abuse. “Non-willful” neglect, like self-neglect, can be hard to spot and generally occurs when a caregiver is unable or does not know how to care for someone.

Financial exploitation is a growing problem for the elderly and can occur in a number of ways. The illegal or improper use of an elder’s assets, often by a relative, is a common form and should be reported to APS is suspected. Scams are another growing form of financial exploitation, targeting elders who may be more susceptible to manipulation.

CHFS recommends looking for patterns where abusive behavior is expected. Malnutrition, poor hygiene, unusual transactions, and dramatic behavior shifts are just a few signs of potential abuse. More information is available at chfs.ky.gov.

If you suspect an elder is being abused call 1-800-752-6200 or 911 if there is immediate danger.

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