It’s an unfortunate truth that elder abuse is more common than some assume. It affects four percent of the elder population every year. But, according to experts, less than one in 14 cases of elder abuse are reported to law enforcement authorities. This post will go over how to recognize and cope with abuse. Whether you’re a senior citizen who wants to keep yourself safe, or a family member who is trying to prevent any issues, this will help you stay alert.
Why and Where It Happens
Elder abuse commonly occurs where the elder lives. In the home, abusers can be adult children or caretakers. It also happens in long-term care facilities, where nurses and caretakers take advantage of the elderly in some form. So, why does this happen? As they age, they become more vulnerable. They lose much of their physical strength, making it hard for them to fight back. Their mental state, as well, can affect their ability to protect themselves.
The Five Common Types of Elder Abuse
- Physical – This may include pushing, shoving, slapping, pinching, hitting, and the like.
- Sexual – Some people are surprised by this, but it does happen to older adults. More often, it’s caregivers who take advantage of weaker senior citizens who can’t stand up for themselves.
- Psychological – Obviously, the other forms of abuse are going to have an effect on someone’s psychological health. However, this can stand on its own as well. The perpetrator may threaten, speak abusively, become rude and sarcastic, and otherwise belittle the senior.
- Financial – This involves the improper – even illegal – use of an elder’s assets. They might take money or property, cash social security or pension checks for themselves, or coerce the elder in some other financial way.
- Neglect – This is a passive, rather than aggressive, form of abuse, but is just as powerful. It constitutes more than half of all reported cases of elder abuse. The caregiver might fail to provide medication or food on time. They might neglect to help the elder with their hygiene. Even if the neglect is unintentional, it’s still wrong and has a serious effect on the abused.
How to Recognize Abuse
Oftentimes signs of abuse are passed off as symptoms of dementia, mental deterioration, or side effects of the elderly person’s frailty. So, it’s important to know how to spot it. Warning signs would include frequent arguments between the elderly person and their caregiver, or sudden changes in personality or behavior. Let’s look at some warning signs for each kind of abuse.
- Physical abuse is easier to spot. Look for unexplained signs of injury, such as bruises or welts. Broken bones and sprains would be an obvious clue. Don’t simply assume it was an accident. You don’t need to be overly suspicious, but you should investigate the causes of any injuries to be on the safe side.
- Sexual abuse warning signs would include bruises around private areas, unexplained bleeding, and a sudden change in the elder’s behavior. They could become more defensive, angry, or jittery. This kind of abuse has an especially profound effect on their psychological state.
- Psychological abuse could be happening if the elder shows a sudden and marked change in personality, such as defensiveness, overreacting to small things, or crying easily. Gently approach your loved one to see if they’ll open up about it.
- Financial abuse warning signs include significant withdrawals from their accounts, items or cash missing from the household, and unpaid bills even when they have enough income for it. Look for any indication that their spending habits have changed, and find out whether they’re handling their own finances, or if a caretaker has assumed responsibility without asking.
- Dehydration, malnutrition, and bed sores are just a few signs of possible neglect. Keep an eye out if the home is unsanitary, or the elderly person is left dirty or unbathed.
If you’re a senior citizen, you can also take action to protect yourself. Make sure your financial and legal affairs are in order. If they aren’t, you can enlist professional help. It’s also important to keep in touch with your family and friends, in order to avoid becoming isolated. And if you’re unhappy with the care you’re receiving in-home, or in a facility, don’t be afraid to speak up. You can turn to a trusted friend or family member. There are also elder abuse helplines. The National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence has compiled a list, which you can find here: https://www.nccafv.org/adult-protective-services-numbers.
By staying aware of the warning signs, you can stop abuse or prevent it from escalating any further. Find more information and resources from the CDC here, and from The NCPEA (National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse) here.