Debra Greenberg of the Gerontology Division at Montefiore Medical Center in New York says this kind of "extreme case" has only come across her desk a couple of times. More often than not, elder abuse has to do with unintentional neglect from family members who are ignorant of the proper ways to care for an aging individual.
Self-neglect, which occurs when the elderly fail to follow medical advice or otherwise care of themselves, is a leader in the reporting of elder abuse. Financial abuse, when younger family members misuse the elderly person's assets, follows closely. According to the National Elder Abuse Center study, self- and financial-abuse comprise 21 percent of elder abuse cases.
And abuse has consequences that reach beyond an assault on the quality of life of the elderly: Studies suggest that older people who have been abused tend to die earlier than those who have not been, even in the absence of chronic or life-threatening illness, according to the American Psychological Association.
"If you see abuse of any kind going on, there are people you can turn to," Greenberg said. "If you think this is life and death, obviously call 911, but if it's ongoing, most departments for the aging can get you where you need to go."
More information on elder abuse, including how to report it, can be found on the National Center on Elder Abuse web site.