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How to spot elder abuse

Author: HCF Management

October 3, 2017

While nobody wants to think of their loved ones in an harmful situation, abuse does occur. Sadly, elder abuse affects seniors around the world. While elder abuse often occurs in the home, it can also be found in institutional facilities, such as long-term care. It is also difficult to tell how many of our seniors are facing abuse; signs may be missed by professionals due to lack of awareness or training. Elders are often reluctant to report issues themselves. They may fear retribution, lack the mental capacity or in cases where the caregiver is a family member, be unwilling to get them “in trouble.”

Unfortunately, many factors contribute to why seniors are abused by their caretakers. Their bodies are frailer, and they are less likely or unable to stand up to those bullying them. Physically, they may not be able to hear or see as well as they once did, and mentally they may be unable to think as clearly. Abusers will take advantage of this frailty, as well as ailments may make caring for the elderly more trying.

Abuse is not just limited to physical harm. There are many ways someone may begin to take advantage of our seniors. Although this is the case, it’s often hard to tell for sure if an elder is facing abuse. What is actually abuse could look like dementia or caretakers may blame dementia. And, many signs of abuse can also be symptoms of mental deterioration. However, if you believe something nefarious is happening, don’t let a caregiver convenience you that it’s simply mental health. Take the signs of abuse seriously.

Some conditions make elders more likely to be victims of abuse:

  • How extreme sickness or dementia may be
  • Isolation of elder and caretaker or spending too much time together
  • Domestic violence was present in the home or if the senior was abusive to their children or spouse
  • Verbal or physical aggression on the part of the senior

If you witness fights or any tension between the caregiver and senior or if the senior experiences any changes in personality or behavior, these are warning signs, and you should alert the authorities. Additionally, there are five types of abuse to look for.

Neglect or Abandonment

Neglect makes up for more than half of all reported cases of elder abuse. Neglect is when the caretaker is not properly giving care or assistance to the elder or their living space. Neglect does not always mean it’s intentionally being done; passive neglect happens when a caregiver is overburdened or not trained.

Signs of neglect can include unwashed or dirty clothing, dirty diapers, bedsores, any unexplained weight loss, an unkempt home or lack of medical devices for the senior (hearing aids, cane, glasses, etc.).

Physical

While seniors may keep quiet about physical abuse, sometimes it’s necessary to confront your loved one and ask if a caretaker ever pushes, yells or if they are afraid. The signs of physical abuse may be a little more visible than other forms of elder abuse. They can include broken bones, abrasions, bruises, burns, or pressure marks. The elder or caretaker may blame odd circumstances for injuries, like running into walls.

Financial

Unfortunately, sometimes bad people steal from the elderly. Anytime someone unauthorized uses a seniors fund or property, it is considered financial exploitation. This may occur either by a caregiver or a scam artist. Some scammers are calling seniors asking for money or claiming they’ve won a prize. Other scams include fake charities or investment fraud.

Signs of financial abuse appears as money that is unaccounted for, an increase in credit card usage, or withdrawals of cash more often than normal. Caregivers may also take money for purchases they’ve claimed to make, yet never seem to arrive. Other signs includes bills that remain unpaid or a new person being added to a bank account or credit card accounts.

Emotional

Emotional abuse may be one of the most difficult forms of abuse to recognize. Because a senior may have a difficult time expressing themselves due to illness or dementia, emotional abuse means the elder is unable to fight back. It can also range from verbal insults to aggressive verbal attacks.

If a senior is experiencing emotional abuse, they may be seen exhibiting unusual behavior, like biting, rocking or act nervous. Fearfulness or nervousness may be seen around a particular person, such as the caregiver or they may have a strange relationship. You may witness the caregiver yelling at the elder or the senior may be acting withdrawn or apathetic.

Sexual

It’s difficult to think about, but sexual abuse does happen. Abusers often look for vulnerable members of society, and seniors can be seen as easy to gain control over. Due to their dependence on others, seniors are less likely to report sexual abuse.

Signs to look for include bruising around the breast or genital area, any evidence of venereal disease, trouble standing or walking, or vaginal or rectal bleeding. The senior may also exhibit withdrawn or depressed behavior. Or, you may notice flirting or touching by the caregiver.

Report Abuse

When you suspect an elder is being abused, don’t assume someone else will step up to the plate. Take photos of injuries, take notes of changes in behavior, and make written reports of any bruising or other physical signs. By documenting what you see, it can be easier to prove your suspicions.

If you’re concerned about an elder who is in long-term care, contact your local Ombudsman, who will receive and resolve claims. Your state will have an ombudsman program and professionals who will investigate and makes changes when necessary. The Ombudsman program advocates on behalf of residents right and quality of life in long-term care facilities.

If abuse is severe or you’re afraid the elder may be harmed or is in life-threatening danger, don’t hesitate, call 911. It’s better to report early, before waiting till tragedy strikes.