Elder Abuse Awareness

June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day launched in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was created to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older adults.

I hate that we need an awareness day like this, but the truth is that one in 10 adults over the age of 65 has been a victim of some type of elder abuse at one point or another. That’s a little bit shocking, isn’t it? Sad but true. In this episode, we explore the types of elder abuse and what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

My Guest

For this episode, I was joined by Patricia Henderson. Patricia is the Outreach Manager and Community Liaison at Senior Connection Center in Tampa, Florida. Patricia has been serving older adults in central Florida for the past 12 years, at least knows her way around age-related issues. To learn more about Patricia and the Senior Connection Center, as well as any websites/resources we mentioned in the show, see the Links & Resources section below.

What We Covered

  • What constitutes elder abuse – not all crimes perpetrated against older adults are labeled elder abuse. Learn the difference and where to report
  • Types of elder abuse – There are 7 types of elder abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial abuse, and self-neglect
  • What causes elder abuse and what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones – education, awareness, and access to resources are key
  • Signs that your loved one may have been or is being abused
  • Who typically perpetrates elder abuse – Contrary to what you may think, abuse is perpetrated by a family member in 90% of the cases. This may be one reason that elder abuse is so underreported. For every case that is reported, 14 more go unreported
  • Why elder abuse is a societal problem that communities should be talking about – isolated older adults are very vulnerable to exploitation. Creating communities that are engaged and value people of all ages is important.
  • Where can you learn more about elder abuse  – check the links section below for the resources we mentioned in this episode

Please Share

This is not a fun topic, but a very important one. The more we talk about it, the less likely it is that it will happen. Do your part by digging deeper into the resources provided here and then spread the word! Send this post and podcast episode to others and ask them to do the same. Together we can all make a difference.

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Elder Abuse Awareness & Prevention

Liz Craven: [00:00:00] The Sage Aging podcast is brought to you by Polk, elder care guide your guide to all things, senior care and resources. Find the 2021 guide in English and Spanish at polkeldercare.com.

Welcome to the Sage Aging podcast. I’m your host. Liz Craven, Sage Aging will connect you to information and resources you need to navigate the aging and caregiving journey. I’ll bring you education, inspiration, amazing industry guests and caregivers spotlights to shed some light on the topics of aging information and resources can be so hard to find if you don’t know where to look, but don’t worry,

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Hey everyone. Welcome to the Sage Aging podcast. This is episode number three of season two. Did you know that June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Launched on June 15th, 2006, by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at United Nations world Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is recognized every year on June 15th, by the way, was created to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older adults.

I hate it that we need an awareness day like this, but the truth is that one in 10 adults over the age of 65 has been a victim of some type of elder abuse at one point or another. That’s a little bit shocking to me and makes me even sadder than I was before. But, you know, abuse comes in lots of different forms and we’ll explore that today.

By the end of our conversation, you’re going to be well-equipped with the knowledge that you need to protect yourself and your loved ones. My guest today is Patricia Henderson. Patricia is the outreach manager and community liaison at Senior Connection Center in Tampa, Florida. Patricia has been serving older adults in central Florida for the past 12 years, at least as far as I know and knows her way around age related issues.

I can’t think of a better person to educate us about elder abuse than Patricia. Hi, Patricia. I’m so glad you’re here today. Thanks so much for joining me.

Patricia Henderson: [00:02:54] Hi Liz. I’m glad to be here and thank you for the opportunity.

Liz Craven: [00:02:58] Absolutely. Well, did I get that right? Is it 12 years that you’ve been serving the older adults in central Florida?

Patricia Henderson: [00:03:05] It is.

Liz Craven: [00:03:06] That’s a long time.

Patricia Henderson: [00:03:08] Yes, but it is a wonderful time in my life. I came to the aging field at midlife as a mid-life career change, and it has been a wonderful experience.

Liz Craven: [00:03:19] I always say that the most special people are those who work in the aging care industry. It takes a lot of patients and it takes a lot of passion and it takes a lot of heart.

And I’ve been watching you do this for a long time and you are so good at what you do. So thank you for what you bring to the community.

Patricia Henderson: [00:03:39] Well, thank


Liz Craven: [00:03:40] So tell me a little bit, what about you? What is your favorite part about your job?

My favorite part of the job is educating people, which is something I did in a previous career, but I’m able to do it now about subjects that I’m very passionate about, and that is taking care of older adults and learning more about the aging process.

I think those are things that we all could do a little bit better. Even those of us who are immersed in this day to day, I feel like there’s something brand new to learn every day. Things are changing so rapidly as the baby boomers age and as new issues arise and technology brings its own host of issues that we need to be aware of.

So it’s something that I appreciate about you and the team at Senior Connection Center, always bringing about tons of education and information for us. So thank you.

Patricia Henderson: [00:04:38] We’re glad to be part of the community and to help educate the community.

Liz Craven: [00:04:42] Well, our topic today, we’re honing in on a super important one because by the time you’re listening to this, it will be June 15th.

And that is Elder Abuse Awareness Day. And I said it in my intro and I’ll say it again. It makes me so sad that we need a day like this, but. I’m happy to be here to help elevate that conversation and get everybody talking about it. Let’s start at the beginning. What is elder abuse? Can you define that for us?

Patricia Henderson: [00:05:16] I can on simply put elder abuse is the mistreatment of an older adult, but it comes in many forms. It comes in the form of physical abuse. It comes in the form of neglect or even self neglect. It can be emotional or psychological abuse and it can be sexual abuse as well. And financial exploitation. All of those are forms of elder abuse.

And not only is it a problem for individuals. But this is a problem for society because everyone deserves to live in an environment that is free from harm. Now to go a little further in Florida for something to be considered, elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, there must be a relationship. So we’re not talking about random crimes.

We’re talking about a crime abuse, neglect, or exploitation that happens when someone has a relationship.

Liz Craven: [00:06:11] That’s really interesting. So is it like that just in Florida or is that  nationwide ?

Patricia Henderson: [00:06:17] Every state has different laws regarding abuse, neglect and exploitation, both in the definitions, although they’re coming together more over the years, but in the mandatory reporting requirements and in the penalties.

So states differ somewhat on those laws and regulations.

Liz Craven: [00:06:36] I see. So what happens if it is somebody random? For example, there’s a lot of cyber crime and things like that. That would just be categorized in another way?

Patricia Henderson: [00:06:47] It would be, it would be a crime, it would be a scam or a fraud, but it would not be under the elder abuse statutes and would not go through the abuse hotline.

So that’s kind of the difference is where you report it. The crime to whether it’s reported to the abuse hotline or whether it’s reported to local law enforcement and regulatory authorities.

Liz Craven: [00:07:08] That’s very interesting. And you know, that goes to the point that there are many causes of elder abuse, but most of them are going to stem back to the relationship.

Sometimes it might be a family dynamic that is not very healthy. Perhaps it’s a neighbor who sees an opportunity, or I’ve actually heard of several situations where repairmen and handymen or people who come to service. In the home some way find an opportunity.  How prevalent is elder abuse?

Patricia Henderson: [00:07:44] Well, as you mentioned in the intro, one in 10 older Americans have experienced abuse, neglect, or exploitation, and that is astonishing that it’s 10% of our population of older adults.

Liz Craven: [00:07:57] That

surprised me a lot.

Patricia Henderson: [00:07:59] Well  second statistics may surprise you a little bit, even more, and that is for everyone that is reported. There are about 14 that go on reported. And in the state of Florida in a 12 month period during the fiscal year 2019 to 2020, there were almost 50,000 reports of elder mistreatment.

And then if you factor in those that were not reported based on national statistics, , we’re looking at very large number of individuals who are either already being abused or are at risk.

Liz Craven: [00:08:35] Well, it just goes to the point about how important this conversation is. It’s imperative that we understand what to look for and know how to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Let’s start with causes of elder abuse. How does that typically come around from what we’re seeing?

Patricia Henderson: [00:08:53] One of the foundational causes of elder abuse is ageism. When people are not valued once they reach a certain age, and just as the other isms that we have talked about a lot over the past, especially the past year, when you don’t value someone because of who they are, it’s much easier to mistreat them.

And if older adults are not valued because of their age, then it’s much easier to mistreat them. Interestingly enough, older adults themselves are sometime as the largest perpetrators of ageism.

Liz Craven: [00:09:27] That is really interesting. And, you know, we have a conversation coming up with Kathy Black, out of USF in I think, four or five episodes down the road.

So be listening for that. That’s going to be a really great conversation about age-ism

Patricia Henderson: [00:09:43] That will be, but older adults value in themselves and all of society valuing older adults will reduce the incidents of elder abuse. Another cause is just a sense of entitlement, particularly in consideration of financial exploitation.

When family members feel like that older adult just does not need that money anymore and they need it and they’re entitled to it because eventually they may get it and they want to get it now. So that sense of entitlement also contributes to elder abuse as well as just learned behavior. People have seen other people.

Treat older adults in a certain way. Maybe it’s generational. Maybe they saw their mother or father treating their grandparents in a certain way. And that’s how they understand older adults should be treated. So intergenerational conversations will be important in reducing the risk, but also just the role reversal when someone feels that.

Uh, they are going to abuse or neglect their parent because their parent abused or neglected them when they were a child. So those are some of the causes. Again, there’s ongoing research to determine that and research into elder abuse is in it’s younger stages, so we’re interested to see what’s going to come of some of those studies, but some of the risk factors can include social isolation, which has been of great concern during the pandemic. Dependence.

When someone is dependent on that older adult or that older adult is dependent on a caregiver and also cognitive impairment, including dementia can be a risk factor for someone being abused, neglected, or exploited.

Liz Craven: [00:11:29] What would be some warning signs that we should be looking for of elder abuse?

Patricia Henderson: [00:11:35] Well, I would say one word coveres all of them, and that is the word change.

Behavioral changes. Someone has always been outgoing and now they’re withdrawn. What happened. Something happened to cause that change, someone has always been well-groomed and now they’re unkempt. What happened? Are they now being neglected or are they self neglecting things that change physically, maybe unexplained, bruises, bleeding, unexplained, sexually transmitted diseases.

And one of the things that we want to really encourage people to do is to listen if an older adult tells you that someone has hurt them. Because often they’re dismissed and what they’ve told someone is disregarded, but they are reporting what has happened to them. And they’re hoping someone will


That is such a good point, right there. It is easy because sometimes things might be exaggerated or maybe they’re someone with dementia and sometimes what they say doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s. Easy to push that to the side, but you’re right, it’s so important to truly listen. And just like with a child, a child might tell you all kinds of stories, but you’re going to check those out if you’re a good parent, because you never know.

And the same way with an aging loved one. If they say something to you, it’s important to check it out regardless of whether or not you think there’s a basis for it or not.


Liz Craven: [00:13:09] Wow. There’s so much to think about. So tell me about some of the less obvious forms of elder abuse, for example, financial exploitation and maybe mental abuse.

Patricia Henderson: [00:13:23] Financial exploitation can show up in a lot of ways. It can show up just in the very obvious where someone is coercing or demanding or threatening that older adult, if they don’t provide money for them. And that can show up in an increased amount of withdrawal. We all like to think we’re unpredictable, but we are not.

We’re all predictable and many older adults go to the bank each week and withdrawal money and they do it in the same amount. And then there may be a change. It may be that all of the sudden the older adult can’t pay their bills. And why? What has happened, what has changed? There’s that word again, to make them unable to pay their bills

now. Mental abuse can show up in many forms. Some of which we may just consider how they’ve always interacted with one another. And that older adult may consider that as just normal. But in fact, it’s an abusive pattern that they have been dealing with for many, many years, and maybe even generationally another form of mental abuse is something that happens when families are in denial about dementia.

And this borders on mental abuse. That questioning of that older adult with dementia, who can’t remember, who is not being recalcitrant is not being passive aggressive, but that family member continues to say things such as you remember. Don’t you, I just told you, and just continuing to agitate that older adult with dementia, who can’t remember who can’t comply by that family member may be in denial and just does not understand, or does not want to understand the progression of disease.

And so that can be mentally abusive to that person with dementia.

Liz Craven: [00:15:21] It sounds like a lot of what people are dealing with and a lot of the elder abuse cases could be prevented with education.

Patricia Henderson: [00:15:30] Absolutely. Sometimes it’s an, um, well-intentioned caregiver. Who just does not know what to do. I always say parents don’t come with instructions.

So we need to make sure that our caregivers, both family, caregivers, and professional caregivers are being trained to both deal well with the person they’re caring for, and also to recognize signs of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. But yes. And many times it is a well-intentioned caregiver who just does not know any better.

Liz Craven: [00:16:07] Which makes conversations like this so much more important.

Patricia Henderson: [00:16:11] Absolutely.

Liz Craven: [00:16:13] Where do we typically see elder abuse happen?

Patricia Henderson: [00:16:17] Everywhere. And I say that because it crosses all geographic, socioeconomic and educational boundaries. It can be in any community and sometimes in any family. And so we want to make sure that it is seen as the societal problem, that it is. Many times the media will represent elder abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation as something that is done by a paid caregiver, something that happens in nursing homes.

And in reality, such a small percentage of older adults reside in skilled nursing facilities or assisted living facilities that the majority of abuse happens in the communities and by family members.

That’s a very sobering statement.

90% of the time when abuse occurs, it is a family member about 44% of the time

it is an adult child. Wow. That perpetrates the abuse on their parent.

Liz Craven: [00:17:22] Oh goodness. That just hurts my heart. I just can’t even imagine. I understand it. I understand where frustration comes in as a caregiver. I understand how someone could be completely overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for somebody else.

I get that, but I don’t know. I’d be the one to reach out and say, Hey, I’m drowning. Somebody come help me. But that’s just my personality. And so I wonder if the other piece of it is that we expect people to take care of themselves a hundred percent and asking for help is equivalent to weakness. And I wonder if that is not part of the problem.

Patricia Henderson: [00:18:06] It may be part of the problem, but it may also be that people don’t know where to call. I always refer to my caregiving experience with my parents as the hardest privilege I ever had. It was hard. It was a privilege, but it was hard. Caregiver stress is real. But it’s also not an excuse to abuse and we can’t excuse someone because of the stress, but we do need to undergird them and support them and make sure that they have the tools they need and the support and help they need to

care for that person. Caregiving is a difficult job, but it is an important job.

Liz Craven: [00:18:45] What

happens if there is some abuse happening and it’s reported and the abuser is one of those well-intentioned caregivers, what happens? Are there supports that are put into place or are the consequences just from the get-go.

Patricia Henderson: [00:19:04] Each case is looked at individually and senior connections center is on the forefront of raising awareness. All of the investigations are done by the department of children and families, adult protective services. And they look at all of the situations. They look at all of the contacts that they may be able to find more information from, and they also just look at, is this a situation that they need to bring supports in?

Or is this a situation that they need to refer to the state attorney’s office. They look at the individually. So there are supports that can be brought in, in that situation.

Liz Craven: [00:19:45] I’m really

glad to hear that because the fact that education and access to resources is a big part of this equation tells me that probably there are a lot of situations that could be mitigated and things could be made right with just the right resources and tools.

Patricia Henderson: [00:20:03] Right. And my understanding is that each case is looked at individually. I would refer the listener to two sets of Florida statutes that deal with all of the investigative process, as well as the criminal penalties. And those are statutes 415 and 825. Those are very detailed in what can and can’t be done in those situations.

Liz Craven: [00:20:29] That’s great. Thank you for that. I will put a link to both of those in the show notes and the blog post for this episode, you’ll find the blog post at sageaging.com and show notes, which are basically an abbreviated version of the blog post you’ll find in your favorite podcast app. I love the resources. Being able to provide an extra avenue for people to

just dive a little bit deeper into the conversation. If we have a loved one who’s aging, what is the best way for us to protect them from being a victim of elder abuse?

Patricia Henderson: [00:21:05] Well, there are several ways and one is to listen to them. What are they feeling? Are they concerned about anything? Check on them.

Especially if their household makeup changes, because often that’s a time when things can go really well or really badly be present. Sometimes it’s easy to just try to multitask or do something when you’re listening to a parent, but be present, know what they’re saying? Know that they need you. And they need you, even if they are being cared for by a professional caregiver, they need you, even if they are in a skilled nursing facility or an assisted living facility, they still need you there to check on them and to be present.

Be willing to get help if you need help to care for your parent or loved one. It has surprised me over the years, as I’ve taught to caregivers, that it is very easy for someone to leave their child. In a daycare center or maybe not easy, but they do. And they get babysitters when they want to go out, but they may not want to do that for their parent because they feel like it’s their responsibility.

So that dichotomy has always surprised me over the years. And lastly, be willing to report if you see something, even if it’s in your own family and that’s tough, but it is something that is necessary. If this problem is going to be eradicated.

Liz Craven: [00:22:38] That’s so true. And boy, isn’t that a sticky one. Those family dynamics can be a little bit funky now and then


Patricia Henderson: [00:22:47] Absolutely.

Liz Craven: [00:22:48] Yeah, it can cause a lot of issues, but you’re right. It’s important. It doesn’t matter who the perpetrator is. We have to find a solution and perhaps sometimes, even pulling in a mental health counselor to help the family with the dynamic could be a possible solution, but there’s never a reason or excuse to not say something.

We’ve all heard it a million times before. If you see something say something and that couldn’t be any more important than it is in this situation right here. So let’s look at this from a societal perspective. What can we as citizens and neighbors and friends, what can we do to help prevent elder abuse from happening in our communities?

Patricia Henderson: [00:23:33] Well, the

first thing that anyone can do is to learn and to educate themselves on the topic. And to see this as a societal problem and not just an individual issue is the community supporting older adults. Is the community supporting caregivers? Is it providing safe places for individuals to gather and maybe support groups are needed for survivors of elder abuse. Advocate for policies that protect older adults.

And one of the things that I think is really important is to have intergenerational conversations about how older adults should be treated, because often that is a learned behavior, as we mentioned before. And if someone is seeing their parent care well for their grandparent, then the chances of them caring for their parent well increases.

And to have that conversation about, you know, why does society not treat older adults well? And then also just all of us as we moved down at timeline, just to embrace the aging and to see it as a very positive thing. Rather than as a negative thing about getting older. And I think those are some of the things that we can do.

And there’s simple things sometimes just in changing our own view of aging can change things.

Liz Craven: [00:24:59] That’s

good advice and that begins, or can begin, in the smallest details. Things like. Things to say and things not to say, you know, not calling somebody, granny, that’s a derogatory term. If you don’t know them, if that’s not your granny, you should not be calling her

granny. Referring to people as people as whole. People, it reminds me of a time when we were shopping for assisted living for my father-in-law and everybody we encountered was kind no doubt about it, but when they would refer to us, Those of us not looking to live in assisted living, they would speak in a normal tone of voice.

And when they would turn to my father-in-law, they all of a sudden grew this baby voice and would call him sweetie and pumpkin. And I thought to myself, oh my goodness, these people should know better. That’s just, age-ism in its purest form, but those are some of the small things that we can do in our own personal habits to make this a little bit better.

Patricia Henderson: [00:26:14] Absolutely. It’s hard to do that. It’s hard to change habits and every time I go somewhere and I see somebody doing that, I just want to shake them, but I don’t, I should speak up more. I guess that’s probably something I need to work on by saying, Hey, did you know? It’s probably not a good idea to speak to people that way.

Liz Craven: [00:26:35] I don’t think that’ll make me very many friends, but I might feel better when I walk away.

Patricia Henderson: [00:26:40] Right. And I think it comes down even to our own perception of ourselves. If we say I’m too old to do whatever, then we need to change that. We need to change how we think about ourselves.

As well.

Liz Craven: [00:26:56] Yes, absolutely.

Take every adventure. There was a lady who I interviewed a few episodes back in. I’ll link her in the show notes and the blog post as well. She wrote a book that was called on with the butter. And basically it’s a book about saying yes. To adventure saying yes to excitement and to discovering new things, no matter what your age.

And she got the idea because when her mom was, I want to say 83 years old, she decided that by the time she was 84, she wanted to try. 84 new things or something to that effect. I don’t know if I have the numbers right, but what an incredible journey they had together, trying all of the things. And it was definitely her saying, I’m not going to let my age define me, which was so cool.

That sounds wonderful.

Yeah, it was a great book thoroughly enjoyed it. Where can people go to learn more about elder abuse?

Patricia Henderson: [00:28:02] Well, they can start with our website, seniorconnectioncenter.org. I would also refer them to the Department of Children and Families website and the Adult Protective Services section.

There is the National Central and Elder Abuse. And also the National Clearing House on Abuse in Later Life. Those are some wonderful resources to learn more.

Liz Craven: [00:28:25] I will definitely link those up in the blog post and the show notes as well. You guys have a treasure trove waiting for you in those places, because there’s been a lot of good resource dropped here.

So thank you for that, Patricia. I appreciate it. And now we’re going to go on to my favorite question of every interview. Patricia, what is a piece of Sage advice that you’d like to leave our listeners


Patricia Henderson: [00:28:51] Well, I’m just going to remind people that if you suspect abuse, neglect, or exploitation, please call the abuse hotline.

You can do it anonymously. And the phone number is +1 800-962-2873.

Liz Craven: [00:29:07] That’s the best advice that we could hope for today. And thank you for that number. We are going to make that very obvious in all the places that I mentioned before. Patricia, thank you for taking the time to share with us today. We really appreciate your experience and your knowledge

and I hope that the information that we’ve talked about today will be helpful to people listening.

Patricia Henderson: [00:29:28] Thank you, Liz, for the opportunity. It was my pleasure to be here.

Liz Craven: [00:29:32] You know, conversations like this one are tough, aren’t they? But they really are necessary. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to say something that you’ve probably heard from me a time or two, if you’ve been listening and that’s, this it’s important that we elevate these conversations in all of the circles that we walk in.

By bringing awareness and by equipping people with the resources they need, perhaps one day there won’t be the need for an elder abuse awareness day. We can only hope, right? I hope you’ll investigate the topic further and if you’d like to weigh in on the conversation, maybe over on Facebook or Instagram, and let’s talk about it.

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We’ll talk real soon.

Liz Craven
Author: Liz Craven

Liz Craven, along with her husband Wes, owns Pro-Ad Media, publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, serving the local community for over 28 years. Liz lives in Lakeland and is very active in the local community, specifically in the area of aging. Liz serves on a number of local boards and committees including the Lakeland Vision and Age Friendly Lakeland.