Mickey Rooney’s recent court testimony stating he was a victim of elder abuse by family members has brought some much-needed attention to the issue. The American Psychological Association estimates more than 2 million older adults are victims of elder abuse — which can be in the form of physical, psychological or financial abuse. The APA also says for every reported case, five are not. In an aging America, this can potentially become out of hand.

As Rooney says, “If it can happen to me, Mickey Rooney, it can happen to anyone.” Many times the victim is in good health, both mentally and physically. In an interview with AARP Bulletin, Rooney’s conservator, Michael Augustine says Rooney is completely competent. Rooney says he knew he needed to get help but was hesitant to stand up against family members. Elder abuse often comes at the hands of family or caregivers. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, of reported cases, 33 percent of perpetrators are adult children, 22 percent are other family members and 11 percent are spouses.

It’s a good time to clear up some misconceptions there are about elder abuse:

  • Although such abuse does occur, the majority of elder abuse incidents don’t occur in nursing homes.
  • Because the majority of older people live on their own or with their spouses or family members, most elder abuse and neglect takes place at home. There are extreme cases of elder abuse, but many times the abuse is subtle, and the distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse is blurred.
  • There is no one single pattern of elder abuse. Sometimes there is a continuance of long-standing patterns of physical or emotional abuse within the family. But perhaps more commonly, the abuse is related to changes in living situations and relationships brought about by the older person’s growing frailty and dependence on others.
  • Not just infirm or mentally impaired elderly people are vulnerable to abuse. Elders who are ill, frail, disabled, mentally impaired or depressed are at greater risk of abuse, but even those who do not have these risk factors can fall victim to abusive situations and relationships.

Source: American Psychological Association, AARP, National Center on Elder Abuse