Sunday Mornings With Rania: Elder Abuse

For Houstonians, the topic of elder abuse is one we don’t take lightly. Our community made this loud and clear following the release of this video in January by the Memorial Village Police, which showed (skip to 5:30) caretaker Brenda Floyd repeatedly striking 94-year-old Alzheimer patient, Dorothy Bratten, in her home. The family had noticed bruising on Bratten’s body and installed the home recording device to see if Floyd was behind the abuse. Once their fears were confirmed, Floyd fled. Crime Stoppers worked with law enforcement and the media got involved, too. Tips poured in and Floyd is in police custody. It was great work by then-Assistant Chief (now Chief) Ray Schultz and the Village police.

During this case, however, it was interesting to see some of the comments pour in. Why didn’t the victim just fire her caretaker? Why didn’t she just tell her family? Elder abuse is an extremely complex form of abuse. Additionally, because it is misunderstood, it is often unreported. Sadly, it is also on the rise.

The numbers:

Elder abuse is rapidly becoming one of the fastest-growing crimes. In fact, the National Research Council estimates approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of abuse. Some estimates say as many as 5 million elders are abused annually. That said, research has shown that for every 1 case reported – there are 14 (or some say up to 23) more not reported. Combine this with the fact that America’s population of “65 and over” is projected to nearly triple, thereby reaching more than 70 million by 2030. It goes without saying that many working in this field fear an increase in both the number of abuse cases as the number of citizens at risk for this type of abuse. 

So, what is elder abuse?

Plain and simple, it is the physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse and/or exploitation, neglect and abandonment of an elderly person. Perpetrators include children, other family members and spouses - as well as staff at nursing homes, assisted living and other facilities.

What kind of person could do this?

Anyone. That said, two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses. Sixty percent of the time, the abuse is done by a family member. Additional abuse can be seen by home care aids or staff with nursing homes, assisted living or other facilities. Both men and women abuse. 

What are the warning signs?

  • Signs of physical abuse – Physical bruises, broken bones, burns and/or abrasions
  • Signs of emotional abuse – Withdrawn, sudden changes in behavior, depression, anxiety
  • Signs of financial abuse – Changes in spending patterns, re-writing of legal documents like an estate plan, living will, last will and testament
  • Signs of neglect – poor hygiene, bedsores, weight loss

If you know it’s happening, how do you report it?

Elder abuse requires intervention for many reasons. In some cases, the abused elder can be unaware of the abuse (in financial cases for example or in cases where the elder has physical or mental imparities) or they are aware but embarrassed or ashamed to admit they can no longer take care of themselves or protect themselves. No matter what, they need an advocate. Always call 911 when there is an immediate, life-threatening issue. If that’s not the case, call Adult Protective Services (281-847-7000) or law enforcement. You can always call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS if you wish to remain anonymous.

Now what?

During the month of May, Crime Stoppers is working with Adult Protective Services, the Harris County Attorney, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff’s office to both find those wanted for abuse against elders and to educate the community on the risks and dangers.

Please join the conversation. Be another set of eyes and a voice for our aging population. And talk, talk, talk and talk about these issues with your family as a whole. At the end of the day education will lead to prevention – and that’s the ultimate goal.

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston