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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Elder Abuse

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 3rd 2011

Elder AbuseMickey Rooney, the 90 year old famous actor and icon for generations of movie fans dating back to the 1930's 40's and 50's, testified before the United States Congress about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepson. His stepson sheds light on a major health problems that is often overlooked by our youth oriented society.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, between 1 and two million people, 65 and older, have been injured, exploited or mistreated by someone on whom they depend for care. This can be at the hands of family or nursing home where they live.

To make matters worse, when an elderly person is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease, they become easy prey for those who are exploitive. Their state of confusion, loss of memory and disorientation is such that, if they could complain, people tend not to believe them, thinking the complaints are delusions.

Elder abuse takes many forms, including neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and theft, including of money and other assets.

Mr. Rooney states that his stepson committed several of these acts. The case is going to court. Of course, the son-in-law denies any of this. It is possible that this person may defend himself by claiming that Mr. Rooney does not know what he is talking about. I am only venturing this as an opinion.

The anonymity of life in nursing homes also makes residents vulnerable to all types of harm and neglect. In my experience, this can be prevented by family members who take an active interest in their loved one and remains constantly involved with both visiting the home and taking an active interest in what happens there.

In those cases where an elderly person who suffers from dementia and is living at home with their family, it is extremely difficult to cope with the situation. Caring for a mother or father who has Alzheimer's is daunting at best. It is emotionally and physically draining. As a result, its easy to lose patience and yell, insisting that, "I have told you that before," or, "how can you forget that again," etc. Despite the care giver knowing that it is irrational to believe that the patient can remember, exhaustion and anger can lead to frustration pouring out.

It is also important for concerned relatives and neighbors to raise an alarm if the elderly person seems to suffer many accidents and injuries. If ignored, the elderly, who are unable to fend for themselves, are in extreme danger. There is no doubt that local health officials, visiting nurses service and police can be called in to investigate suspicions of this type of abuse.

You may think that this issue does not apply to you because you are not elderly. However, most of us have elderly grandparents and other relatives whom we need to be aware of. Please remember that, even if you are young now, the time will come when you too will be elderly. Just like child abuse is evil, so is this.

Help can be provided by the National Alzheimer's Association. If you are in this situation with someone living in your home and who has Alzheimer's, it is worth contacting them because they may be able to provide services or connect you with organizations that can.

Do you have anecdotes of elder abuse to talk about? Your contribution is encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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