Elderly individuals are just as vulnerable to abuse as young children. Sadly, it’s difficult for them to be taken seriously due to their disabilities including intellectual disabilities. Thousands of seniors are often abused yet this hidden social issue is often overlooked in the community. Experts believe that the nature of the abuse is perhaps what makes it a silent issue. The victims also experience distress as no one might believe them when reporting the abuse or they may not be able to communicate or seek support. The abuse of seniors is becoming prevalent, and the rates are even exceeding their susceptibility to some of the diseases related to old age. Elderly abuse can, therefore, be outlined among the leading social issues facing the society today. The abuse of seniors with mental retardation will be explored in this paper alongside the levels, causes, and prevention of the condition. The paper will also focus on the abuse that results from having the condition and how that can also be avoided.
Elderly Mentally Retarded Individuals Abuse
What is mental retardation?
Mental retardation (MR) refers to a condition whereby individuals have below average intelligence that hinders their optimal functioning and daily living. The condition is normally present in childhood thus interfering with proper brain development. While the normal person’s intelligent quotient (IQ) is estimated to be an average of 100, people with mental retardation have a lower IQ ranging between 70 to 75 or even lower. Other than poor communication and health, mentally disabled individuals experience difficulties with daily living, work, community interactions, leisure activities, schooling, and social skills. Statistics indicate that over 10 million people in the United States have mental retardation. The condition is often common among males than females ("Mental Retardation - body, causes, What Is Mental Retardation?", 2018).
Levels of mental retardation
Mental retardation is classified into four levels namely; profound, severe, moderate, and mild (Smith, 2010). Each classification is based on an individual’s ability to learn adaptive skills like social interaction, and performance on IQ tests that are standardized. Each level is as outlined below;
i. Mild retardation
Most MR individuals belong here and have IQ levels ranging from 55 to 69. In fact, it might not be easy for such people to be diagnosed with the condition. For instance, most mildly retarded children go undiscovered until they start schooling. A retarded child will feed, walk, and talk slowly compared to others. However, they can still cope up with math and learn practical skills to around fifth or sixth-grade class. Mildly retarded adults have continuously proved that they can learn social among other skills and live independently.
ii. Moderate retardation
Individuals with IQ levels of 40 to 54 are classified as moderately retarded. The number of people who are moderately retarded is smaller than those who are mildly retarded. Children diagnosed with this level of retardation showcase poor motor skills and slow speech development. They also find it hard to do math or read. However, they can learn basic communication among other simple skills. Even though the moderately retarded cannot live alone, they can take themselves to familiar places or even perform simple tasks.
iii. Severe retardation
This level of mental retardation involves individuals with an IQ between 20 to 39 which makes a small percentage of MR people. Severely retarded individuals are easily discovered at birth or soon after they’re born. They showcase poor ability to communicate as early as preschool, but with constant training, they learn some self-help skills including how to feed and bathe. As they grow up, they also get better at speech and walking. However, even in adulthood, they need to stay in a protected environment even though they can manage to follow daily routines.
iv. Profound retardation
People with IQs of 0 to 24 are diagnosed with this level of retardation. The condition is typically discovered at birth and is usually accompanied by other medical problems. Such children require proper nursing care and should be continuously supervised. Profoundly retarded children present delays in all aspects of development, but they learn to use their jaws and limbs with training. They may learn to walk and communicate during adulthood. Nonetheless, they require total support in daily living.
Causes of mental retardation
A combination of several factors can cause mental retardation. Studies indicate that reasons for one in three cases of MR are unknown, which makes it a complex condition. Causes related to MR include early childhood illnesses, defects in chromosomes or genes, environmental influences, and injuries on a developing fetus. However, the three most known causes are;
• Fragile X syndrome
• Fetal alcohol syndrome
• Down syndrome
Experts have formulated different ways to organize MR causes. In most occasions, they’ve classified them into four groups namely;
• Biological factors
• Socioeconomic and environmental factors
• Infections and toxins and
However, most experts also concur with another system that divides the causes into three categories according to when the event first occurred. These groups are prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal.
- Prenatal – These are causes whose effects occur before birth. Examples of prenatal causes include neural tube defects, toxins ingested by an expectant lady, and heredity. Heredity and genetics mainly involve such conditions as Down syndrome, phenylketonuria (PKU), and Fragile X syndrome. The toxins include tobacco and alcohol or drug exposure during pregnancy. Infections such as HIV/AIDS can also take a toll on a fetus. Other harmful infections include toxoplasmosis and rubella (also known as German measles). Mental retardation can also be caused by neural tube disorders including spina bifida (whereby the spinal column isn’t completely closed) and anencephaly (whereby most of the baby’s brain is missing at birth). Pregnant women are also advised not to drink too much since this could lead their unborn baby to be mentally retarded through a condition called fetal alcohol syndrome. Exposure to radiation when heavy with a child and maternal nutrition could also lead to MR.
- Perinatal – These are causes that take place during the process of birth. They include injuries during delivery such as head trauma, umbilical cord accidents, obstetrical trauma, and oxygen deprivation (asphyxia/anoxia). Low birth weight (less than 1.5 kilos) is also included in this category. Babies born prematurely are likely to be mentally retarded than those born maturely.
- Postnatal – These are causes that present themselves after birth such as severe malnutrition and mercury poisoning. Most of these events are determined by the environment. They include situations like neglect, accidents, child abuse, societal biases, and environmental toxins. Diseases like meningitis and encephalitis also lead to MR among infants.
Preventing Mental Retardation
Absolute means of preventing mental retardation are lacking. Nonetheless, it’s possible to avoid some cases of MR through public health education, prenatal testing, and better health care. For instance, expectant mothers can prevent their fetus from being harmed by getting vaccinated against infections like rubella and avoiding drinking or using narcotic drugs. Individuals looking forward to becoming parents can seek genetic counseling to establish their likelihood to have a baby with inherited MR. Modern healthcare through medical tests including amniocentesis, ultrasonography, and chorionic villus sampling has made it possible to detect inherited chromosomal and metabolic disorders related to MR. During birth, babies should be protected from head injuries or lead poisoning. Also, the blood of newborn babies can be screened for disorders so that treatment can be done earlier.
Coping up with MR
Unfortunately, there is no cure for mental retardation. The only form of treatment is helping individuals with MR to realize their full potential through developing their skills whether self-help or educational. Children with the condition can exploit their fullest potential with the help of the community, specially trained educators, and parents. Regular counseling can also help the parents or guardians cope with the changes that come along with living with an intellectually disabled person. Children diagnosed with MR either live in a community residence or at home while attending regular school. All states are mandated to provide proper education for mentally retarded children until the age of 21.
Mental Retardation among the elderly
Seniors with mental retardation showcase among others the following symptoms;
• Memory problems
• Challenges interacting with others or communicating
• Poor intellectual standards
• Inability to think logically
• Difficulty paying attention
• Tendency towards self-injury
• Psychotic disorders
While the mentally retarded are said to have a shorter lifespan than normal people, statistics indicate that the life expectancy of mentally handicapped has significantly increased over the years. The mean age of both sexes in the population, as well as the percentage of people aged over 55, has risen steadily over time. Carter & Jancar (1983) discovered that the average age of death had gone up from 22 to 60 years for women and 15 to 58 for men over a 50-year period. The survival rate has increased with some living beyond 60 years (Day, 1985).
Common forms of abuse
Elder abuse can take place in various ways, but the most prevalent forms of abuse are psychological and financial abuse. Other popular cases include using a senior’s property or funds without authorization, physical abuse, sexual abuse, restricting their social freedom, neglect, emotional abuse, and exploitative behavior. Emotional abuse may include such cases as coercion, humiliation, verbal assault, confinement and social isolation. Physical abuse includes; kicking, slapping, injury by use of a weapon, and pushing. Sexual abuse may involve sexual harassment and assault.
What’s shocking is that over 60 percent of the offenders are mature sons and daughters of the victims. The costs of living in the modern day are skyrocketing, and most children are eager to put their hands on their elderly parents’ fortune, a move termed as ‘early inheritance syndrome.’ Since children feel entitled to the wealth or assets of their parents, those experiencing ‘tough time’ are not ready to wait until their parents are dead. They continuously device means to extort money from their parents or interfere with the running or management of their folk’s assets to protect their interests in the name of entitlement or inheritance. Other reasons that heighten the risk of abuse for the elderly mentally retarded include;
• The victim’s inability to complain or be believed
• Social isolation
• The negative attitude of the society against individuals with mental disability
• Relying on others for life necessities
General signs of abuse
The following signs on a mentally disabled elderly could mean that they are being abused. However, these indicators are not necessarily proof of abuse. They include the following;
• Self-destructive tendencies such as self-mutilation or drug abuse
• Recurring physical ailments
• Withdrawal, extreme aggression, or depression
• Strange fear of particular individuals or place
Abuse and exploitation of mentally retarded seniors can be prevented through various ways including the following three levels ("Preventing abuse and exploitation", 2017);
- Primary prevention – Focused strategies on community networks, workplaces, families, and the general public. Campaign for positive roles and valued status for individuals with mental retardation in the community
- Secondary prevention – Targets the victims and includes such strategies as strengthening abuse recognition, reducing risks, protection build up, and fortifying response systems. It also involves creating safer services and supporting carers as well as families with mentally retarded elders.
- Tertiary prevention - Concentrates on known events of abuse and therefore involves strategies to support victims through such steps as recovery support and linking them up to the authorities or the criminal justice system
Other ways to prevent abuse of mentally retarded seniors who are mentally retarded includes involving them in the community so that they cannot feel neglected. They should be given an opportunity to take control over their life, make their own decisions, and do as much as possible independently without constant interference ("What You Need to Know", 2011). Nonetheless, care should always prevail.
Human rights organizations and other bodies such as the United Nations have joined hands to campaign against the vice of elderly mentally retarded abuse among other forms of elder abuse. In fact, the United Nations recognizes June 15th as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day ("Elderly Easy Prey for Abuse", 2017). The day is commemorated annually to remind people that their rights in the community remain even as they get older. Such important rights include;
• The right to be treated with respect and dignity
• The right to be safe and feel safe
• The right to maintain personal independence
• The right to live without neglect, abuse, or exploitation
Seniors, especially those who are intellectually disabled are the most vulnerable in the society. For that particular reason, they should not be exploited, abused or left to fend for themselves. Those who come across victims or perpetrators should report these cases and seek proper support.
Day, K. (1985). Psychiatric disorder in the middle-aged and elderly mentally handicapped. The
British Journal Of Psychiatry, 147(6), 660-667. http://dx.doi.org/10.1192/bjp.147.6.660
Elderly Easy Prey for Abuse. (2017). Advocare.org.au. Retrieved 13 February 2018, from
Mental Retardation - body, causes, What Is Mental Retardation?. (2018). Humanillnesses.com.
Retrieved 13 February 2018, from http://www.humanillnesses.com/original/Men-
Preventing abuse and exploitation. (2017). Disability Services, Department of Communities,
Child Safety and Disability Services (Queensland Government). Retrieved 13 February
2018, from https://www.communities.qld.gov.au/disability/support-services/service-
Smith, D. (2010). Mental Retardation: Causes and Prevention | Education.com. Education.com.
Retrieved 13 February 2018, from https://www.education.com/reference/article/mental-
What You Need to Know. (2011). Vulnerable Adults. Retrieved 13 February 2018, from
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