As older adults become more physically frail, they’re less able to take care of themselves, stand up to bullying, or fight back if attacked. Mental or physical ailments can make them more trying companions for those who live with them. And they may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them
Too many elderly adults are being abused in their homes and even in senior care facilities that are responsible for their well-being. At times this can come from a caregiver that is overwhelmed or neglectful to the client. Other times abuse may be in the form of preying on the client’s finances. If you suspect that an elderly person is at risk of abuse it is important to speak up.
Elder abuse includes physical, emotional, or sexual harm inflicted upon a senior adult. In the U.S. alone, more than half a million reports of elder abuse reach authorities every year, and millions of more cases go unreported.
Elder abuse tends to take place where a senior lives. Their abusers are often adult children, other family members such as grandchildren, a spouse or partner. Elder abuse can also occur in institutional settings, especially long-term care facilities.
There are many forms of abuse, some involve threats or intimidation, and some entail neglect or financial exploitation. Below are some of the more common types:
Physical Abuse: The use of force against a person that results in physical pain, injury or impairment. This abuse is not limited to only physical assault but also an inappropriate use of medications to restrain an individual or confinement.
Emotional abuse – The treatment of a person in ways that cause emotional or psychological pain or distress this includes:
Intimidation through yelling or threats
Humiliation and ridicule
Habitual blaming or scapegoat
Ignoring the person
Isolating a person from friends or activities
Terrorizing or menacing the person
Sexual abuse – Any physical contact with a person without their consent. Such contact can involve physical sex acts, but activities such as showing a person pornographic material, forcing the person to watch sex acts, or forcing the person to undress are also considered sexual abuse.
Neglect – Failure to fulfill the obligation of caretaking for an individual. This constitutes more than half of all reported cases of elder abuse. Neglect can be intentional or unintentional, based on factors such as ignorance or denial.
Financial exploitation – The unauthorized use of an elderly person’s funds or property, either by an outside person. This person or caregiver might:
Misuse an elder’s personal checks, credit cards, or accounts
Steal cash, income checks, or household goods
Forge the elder’s signature
Engage in identity theft
Signs of elder abuse can be difficult to recognize or they may be mistaken for symptoms of dementia. In fact, many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them. There also may be tension between the elderly adult and the caregiver or changes in personality and behavior.
Physical abuse warning signs:
Unexplained signs of injury, such as bruises, welts, or scars, especially if they appear symmetrically on two sides of the body
Broken bones, sprains, or dislocations
Report of a drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication regularly (a prescription has more remaining than it should)
Signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists
Caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the elder alone
Emotional abuse warning signs:
Threatening, belittling, or controlling caregiver behavior
Behavior from the elder that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to themselves
Sexual abuse warning signs:
Bruises around breasts or genitals
Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
Financial exploitation warning signs:
Significant withdrawals from the elder’s accounts
Sudden changes in the elder’s financial condition
Items or cash missing from the senior’s household
Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies
Addition of names to the senior’s signature card
Financial activity the senior couldn’t have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden
Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions
As a Caregiver or family member, there are important steps to take in helping prevent elder abuse or neglect. Take steps to relieve stress, also make sure to avoid burning out. It’s important to request help from others if you find that the individual you are caring for is more difficult than the one person can handle. Take a break; make sure to take regular breaks to keep stress levels low.
How to Report Abuse
If you are an elder who is being abused, neglected, or exploited, tell at least one person. Tell your doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust. Or call one of the helplines listed below. If you see an older adult being abused or neglected, don’t hesitate to report the situation.
Everyone deserves to live in a safe environment. Learn about some of the warning signs of elder abuse, neglect and how you can prevent and report the problem. (www.helpguide.org)
Adult Abuse Hotline (800) 222-8000
Elderly Protective Services for Connecticut (888) 385-4225