Elderly persons in the U.S. are approximately 45 million in number, representing 13.6% of the population. The projected rapid increase in this baby boom generation number is fraught with numerous societal challenges that include victimization. Victimization is analogous to abuse that can be physical abuse, neglect, and hybrid financial exploitation among others. The elderly persons undergo various forms of victimization in both overt and subtle ways because they are vulnerable in their health status, cognitive abilities, and have limited social network. Current paper examines why the elderly persons are subject to abuse by highlighting different ways in which they are victimized, why they are vulnerable, and suggests proven ways that can remedy this unfortunate situation.
The elderly are considered to be individuals usually over the age of 65 years old, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2013). This definition takes into account the four changing dimensions of “age” and “ageing”: physical appearances, psychological wellbeing, temporal-spatial context, and social expectations. As of 2012, the population of the elderly in the U.S. was 43.1 million. Out of this figure, the 65-74 age group numbered 24 million, the 75-84 age group was 13.3 million, while group over the age of 85 was at 5.9 million (Administration on Aging, 2013). Overall, elderly women were 24.3 million, which is 6.5 million more than elderly men who were 18.8 million in number. The U.S. Census Bureau population estimates also show that most elderly people (81%) reside in metropolitan areas, where they are less likely to emigrate. The estimates indicate 12 states (Michigan, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, and New York) with each having over one million elderly persons who account for more than 59% of the country’s 43.1 million elderly people. Moreover, elderly persons of ethnic minority constituted 21% with 9% African Americans, 5% Native American, 4% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 1% Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islanders. All these groups are non-Hispanics while Hispanics (multi-racial constituent) making about 7%. Although definitions categorize those over 65 years as the elderly and, therefore, vulnerable, elderly persons above 75 years of age are more susceptible to victimization (Powell & Wahidin, 2007).
Generally, victimization of elderly persons include among others, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or financial exploitation. Abandonment and neglect also qualify as victimization practices. Although the elderly have the lowest objective risk of victimization for most crimes, they exhibit high sensitivity to risk, because they perceive themselves as more vulnerable to victimization (Acierno, Hernandez-Tejada, Muzzy, & Steve , 2009). Consequently, elderly persons’ fear of crime precipitates subtle changes in their personal conduct to precautionary and avoidance behaviors that restrict their lifestyles. Perhaps, most elderly people report low cases of crime, because most of them avoid going out to social and public places. Strikingly, most abusers of the elderly are usually acquaintances to the elderly or have relationships with high levels of trust with the elderly. The most common perpetrators include offspring and relatives, attorneys, nurses, caregivers, doctors, and financial advisers (Rosenthal, 2010). Although negligible, sexual abuses that are legally classified include subjecting elderly persons to uncomfortable sexual situations like nudity. However, many of elderly persons do not consider themselves as victims. Physical abuse, which significantly happens, includes larceny crimes that involve bodily contact. In fact, numerous crime reports repeatedly indicate the elderly as having the highest rate of victimization from larceny crimes than any other age group (Lachs et al., 2008). Emotional abuse is closely tied to cases where other members of society verbally abuse or infringe on the private and personal spaces of the elderly. This is evident in situations whereby elderly persons report abuses that occur while they were in their own homes (Heap, 2008). Financial exploitation of the elderly occurs due to their insufficient knowledge about business dealings and their eagerness for social contact, which marketers and insurance sales agents exploit. Neglect and abandonment are due to the societal ascribing of old age as irrelevant to normal functioning of society.
Why are the elderly vulnerable to victimization? Empirical research studies have affirmatively proven that deteriorating health status, failing cognitive abilities, and limited social network are significant precursors to the victimization of elderly citizens. First, the health of humans biologically deteriorates with the progression of time. Most elderly persons start experiencing diminishing physical capabilities at the onset of their twilight years. These failing physical capabilities include loss of sight, hearing, and voice that reduce their independence and daily activity engagements (Richard & Vemuri, 2004). Consequently, the abilities of elderly persons to identify and define forms of abuse they are undergoing, is diminished and so is their assertiveness (Kim & Geistfeld, 2008). Their changing health exposes the elderly to physical abuses, especially larceny crimes (include pickpocketing and purse snatching). Therefore, their compromised physical alertness warrants special treatment and care from caregivers who occasionally victimize them. Underlying the grave health situation is depression and stress from their failure to adjust to natural events that make it hard for victims to be vocal about their abuses. Second, failing cognitive abilities that result from dementia, reduced reasoning/ evaluation skills, and mental inflexibility often make the elderly poor judges and decision makers. This situation becomes problematic when the elderly are exposed to commercial and legal matters. In fact, Kim and Geistfeld (2008) affirm that many research studies have proven that the elderly inappropriately understand intentions of commercial advertisements. Inherent in the failing cognitive abilities is the hybrid financial exploitation (where financial fraud simultaneously occurs with physical support and abuse). In fact, according to Jackson and Hafemeister (2010), the hybrid financial exploitation is the most entrenched of all abuses, because it lasts the longest, owing to the mutual dependency between an elderly person and a perpetrator who is often a close relative. Furthermore, according to Powell and Wahidin, the elderly were the victims of the biggest financial scandal in the 20th century that saw £11 billion from elderly people’s pension funds disappear without accountability.
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