Elder Abuse

Older adults can become more vulnerable to others who may take advantage of them. An elderly person with short term memory problems may open the door to a stranger and allow them in the home. Mental and physical problems may make them more difficult for the people who live with them.

Tens of thousands of seniors across the United States are being abused: harmed in some substantial way often people who are directly responsible for their care. More than half a million reports of abuse against elderly Americans are reported every year, and millions more go unreported.

Elder abuse tends to take place where the senior lives: most often in the home where abusers are apt to be adult children; other family members such as grandchildren; or spouses/partners of elders. Institutional settings especially long-term care facilities can also be sources of elder abuse.

Physical elder abuse is non-accidental use of force against an elderly person that results in physical pain, injury, or impairment. Such abuse includes not only physical assaults such as hitting or shoving but the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints, or confinement.

In emotional or psychological senior abuse, people speak to or treat elderly persons in ways that cause emotional pain or distress.

Verbal forms of emotional elder abuse include

  • intimidation through yelling or threats
  • humiliation and ridicule
  • habitual blaming or scapegoating

Nonverbal psychological elder abuse can take the form of

  • ignoring the elderly person
  • isolating an elder from friends or activities
  • terrorizing or menacing the elderly person
  • Elder neglect, failure to fulfill a caretaking obligation, constitutes more than half of all reported cases of elder abuse. It can be active (intentional) or passive (unintentional, based on factors such as ignorance or denial that an elderly charge needs as much care as he or she does).

This involves unauthorized use of an elderly person’s funds or property, either by a caregiver or an outside scam artist.

An unscrupulous 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

Scams that target elders include

  • Announcements of a “prize” that the elderly person has won but must pay money to claim
  • Phony charities
  • Investment fraud

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

If you suspect elderly abuse, but aren’t sure, look for clusters of the following physical and behavioral signs.

Physical Abuse:

  • Unexplained signs of injury such as bruises, welts, or scars, especially if they appear symmetrically on two side of the body
  • 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
  • Signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists
  • Caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the elder alone

Emotional Abuse:

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

Neglect:

  • 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

Financial Exploitation:

  • 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

If you are know 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. Other people care and can help you. You can also call your local Office of Aging.


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