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Panel to discuss elder abuse prevention and other aging issues

June 04, 2018
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines elder abuse as an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. Image courtesy of USC Center on Elder Mistreatment

Google “elder abuse in South Carolina” and you get some pretty disturbing headlines. “SC ranked second worst in protecting its elderly population.” “Moncks Corner woman arrested in ‘horrific elder abuse scheme.’”

And the stats are just as alarming. An estimated 1 in 10 older people is abused, either emotionally, physically, financially or sexually, according to Ron Acierno and Melba Hernandez-Tejada at the Medical University of South Carolina. They’re both national experts on the subject and teach in the College of Nursing. 

On June 6, MUSC will host a panel discussion on aging issues, including elder abuse. It will be from noon to 1:15 p.m. in MUSC’s Bioengineering Building, room 110. Panelists include:

  • Acierno, who is dean of research in the College of Nursing and lead author of the National Elder Mistreatment Study.
  • Mary Catherine Dubois, a palliative care social worker at MUSC. Mark Newbrough, M.D., head of geriatrics at MUSC.
  • Sally Smith, author of “The Circle: A Walk with Dementia.”

Hernandez-Tejada, who directs the MUSC Elder Abuse Assessment Training and Mental Health Services Program, is organizing the event. “We want to use a negative issue, elder mistreatment, to foster positive actions. Prevention is key, and the only way to make that happen is by educating people.”

Some facts about elder abuse:

  • Most abusers are partners or adult children of the victim.
  • Grandchildren can be abusers.
  • Isolation puts people at higher risk of abuse.
  • Stigma keeps some people from talking about elder abuse.

Hernadez-Tejada said as baby boomers age and life expectancy increases, there’s a greater need for both awareness of and expertise in elder abuse prevention and treatment. “Elder abuse, along with different types of dementia, are among the most common issues that older adults are currently facing.” 

Elder abuse wasn’t widely studied until the 1990s. The first major study, the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study, found that women were abused at a higher rate than men, people age 80 and up were at especially high risk of abuse and in almost all cases of elder abuse, the abuser was a family member. The field of research has matured since then and includes Acierno’s and Hernandez-Tejada’s influential studies delving into the statistics behind the stories. 

What can people do to prevent elder abuse? Try to make sure they don’t completely withdraw from the world, Hernandez-Tejada said. Social connection is critically important.  

Newbrough said to keep an eye on caregivers, too. “Caring people, when burned out, may display harmful behaviors that they would never have done prior to becoming burned out. As a provider, I have to monitor the health of the patient, and also be aware of burnout in the caregivers.”

The June 6 panel discussion, which is a little more than a week before World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, is open to the public. For more information, contact Hernandez-Tejada. 

About the Author

Helen Adams