Picture an elderly, scruffy man pushing a shopping cart full of his tattered, worldly possessions. Where do you think he sleeps at night? Picture a frail, nervous and confused woman holding up a grocery checkout line with people making impatient comments. How do you think she feels? Picture that same woman with her grocery bags waiting at the bus stop. Where is she going and is there anyone at the other end? If so, is it a loving family member or a verbally and physically abusive son or daughter?
When considering seniors, homelessness and abuse do not immediately come to mind. Homeless seniors, although increasing in numbers, continue to be a forgotten population. Many will become homeless for the first time later in life. What a frightening prospect this is for the elderly person finding himself homeless through abandonment, eviction, victimization and abuse, self-neglect or dementia. According to the Homeless Emergency and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH) of 2009, “A person is considered to be homeless when they are fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions in the individual’s or family’s current housing situation, including where the health and safety of children are jeopardized, and who have no other residence and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.”
A large percentage of seniors suffer domestic violence from their caregivers. These “informal caregivers” are family members and friends who are the primary sources of care and who assist them with activities of daily living.
In the only national study that attempted to define the scope of senior abuse, the vast majority of abusers were family members, most often adult children, spouses, partners, and others. Those informal caregivers who abuse drugs or alcohol, who have a mental/emotional illness, and who feel burdened by their care-giving responsibilities abuse at higher rates.1
Seniors with dementia are thought to be at greater risk of abuse and neglect than those of the general, elderly population. In a U.S. study, caregiver abuse and neglect of people with dementia were detected in 47.3% of the surveyed caregivers.2
Verbal Abuse – approximately 60% of caregivers were verbally abusive to the senior in their care.
Physical Abuse – between 5 and 10% of caregivers reported that they were physically abusive to the senior in their care.
Neglect – Fourteen percent of caregivers reported that they were neglectful.
Senior homelessness, abuse and neglect do not discriminate; they occur in all families from all races, nationalities and income groups. People of financial means living alone can become homeless if no longer mentally, emotionally or physically able to care for themselves. Dangers in the kitchen or unpaid rent can lead to evictions. Once this neglect is discovered, the family or appointed caregivers generally make arrangements for nursing home or assisted-living care, in-home support services or other support services that meet health and safety needs; however, most seniors on a limited income do not have these options.
2. E Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect, University of California, Irvine, 2010