Elder Abuse What is it? How Can I Help?
Elder mistreatment (i.e. abuse and neglect) is defined as intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder. This includes failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.
- Physical Abuse—Inflicting, or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need.
- Emotional Abuse—Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts.
- Sexual Abuse—Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind, coercing an elder to witness sexual behaviors.
- Exploitation—Illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a vulnerable elder.
- Neglect—Refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder.
- Abandonment—The desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
Signs & Symptoms of Elder Abuse
At first, you might not recognize or take seriously signs of elder abuse. They may appear to be symptoms of dementia or signs of the elderly person’s frailty — or caregivers may explain them to you that way. 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 on the caregiver’s say-so.
General Signs of Abuse
The following are warning signs of some kind of elder abuse:
- Frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and the elderly person
- Changes in personality or behavior in the elder
- Unexplained signs of injury such as bruises, welts, or scars.
- Broken bones, sprains, or dislocations.
- Report of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication regularly (a prescription has more remaining than it should)
- Broken eyeglasses or frames
- Caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the elder alone
In addition to the general signs above, indications of emotional elder abuse include:
- Threatening, belittling, or controlling caregiver behavior that you witness
- Behavior from the elder that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to oneself
- Unexplained venereal disease or genital infections
- Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
- Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration
- Untreated physical problems, such as bed sores
- Unsanitary living conditions: dirt, bugs, soiled bedding and clothes
- Being left dirty or unbathed
- Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather
- Unsafe living conditions (no heat or running water; faulty electrical wiring, other fire hazards)
- Desertion of the elder at a public place
- 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
- Unpaid bills or lack of medical care, although the elder has enough money to pay for them
- Financial activity the senior couldn’t have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden
- Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions
Neglect by Caregivers or Self-Neglect
Protecting Yourself, as an Elder, Against Elder Abuse
- Make sure your financial and legal affairs are in order. If they aren’t, enlist professional help to get them in order, with the assistance of a trusted friend or relative if necessary.
- Keep in touch with family and friends and avoid becoming isolated.
- If you are unhappy with the care you’re receiving, whether it’s in your own home or in a care facility, speak up. Tell someone you trust and ask that person to report the abuse, neglect, or substandard care to an elder abuse helpline or long-term care ombudsman, or make the call yourself.
10 Things Anyone Can Do To Protect Seniors
Fact: Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture; experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect that is reported, as many as five cases go unreported.
Elder abuse happens, but everyone can act to protect seniors. Here are 10 things you can do to help prevent elder abuse:
- Learn the signs of elder abuse and neglect and report your concerns to APS(Adult Protection Services).
- Call or visit elderly relatives, friends, and neighbors and ask how they’re doing.
- Provide a respite for a caregiver by filling in for a few hours or more.
- Ask an older acquaintance to share his or her talents by teaching you or your children a new skill.
- Ask your faith leaders to discuss with their congregations elder abuse prevention and the importance of respecting older adults.
- Ask your bank manager to train tellers on how to detect financial exploitation of elders.
- Suggest your doctor to talk to his or her older patients individually about possible abuse.
- Contact your local adult protective services or long-term care ombudsman(public advocate) to learn how to support their work helping at-risk elders.
- Volunteer to be a friendly visitor to a nursing home resident or homebound elder in your community.
- Send a letter to your local paper, radio, or TV station suggesting it cover World Elder Abuse Awareness Day or National Grandparent’s Day.