As we age, we tend to need a little more help to do some of the things we used to do independently. This could be practical household tasks, or more intimate, hygienic care.
This increased dependence can put older people at increased risk of abuse and exploitation at the hands of those they trust.
Elder abuse is when a person over the age of 60 is neglected or harmed by a caregiver. According to the World Health Organization, over 15% of senior citizens are subjected to abuse.
Understanding the signs of elder abuse can help you to protect the elderly. If you’re concerned that a loved one may be at risk of elder abuse, read on for the top signs.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is the harm caused to a senior citizen at the hands of someone in a position of trust. We typically imagine that this will be in an assisted living or retirement home, but this is not necessarily the case.
Elder abuse could be committed by a family member, neighbor, or anyone in a position of trust and responsibility.
Types of Elder Abuse
Unfortunately, there are several different types of elder abuse. Knowing what to look out for can help to reduce the risk.
This is any form of bodily harm or injury. Common forms of physical abuse may include hitting, kicking, pushing or burning.
Forms of restraint such as tying to a chair or bed, or locking someone in a room are also physical abuse. Giving a person unprescribed medication or drugs is also a form of physical abuse, as this can cause harm to the individual.
Physical abuse may be identified by visible wounds. However, there are other ways to spot it, such as:
- Recurring injuries
- Burns, bruises or cuts which can’t be explained
- Broken bones or sprains
- The victim’s reluctance to seek medical help for these conditions
There is a misconception that older people are less likely to be victims of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, their vulnerability can make them an easy victim.
Sexual abuse can include exposure to pornographic material or forced nudity. It can also take the form of unwanted sexual touching or rape.
Signs of sexual abuse against elders include:
- Bruising on the body (likely to be symmetrical and focused around the genitals or breasts)
- Bleeding from the genitals or anus
- Damaged clothing, particularly underwear
- Sexually transmitted infections or diseases
This is a more subtle form of elder abuse, but can be just as damaging. Psychological abuse can include yelling, threatening or condescending communication. It could also be through the form of controlling what a person does, where they go and who they see.
To detect psychological abuse in your elderly loved ones, keep an eye out for:
- Unexplained changes in behavior
- Appearing frightened or withdrawn
- Difficulty sleeping
- Depression, confusion or loss of interest
- Rocking or mumbling
If an older person’s financial assets or property are under threat then they may be experiencing financial abuse. This could be as obvious as theft – using credit cards and accessing bank accounts.
It could also be more subtle, such as forging signatures. Or manipulating the victim into amending legal documents in the abuser’s favor.
Financial abuse can also include asking for donations to bogus charities. Overcharging for services, or charging for services which haven’t been received, are also forms of financial abuse.
You can recognize financial abuse through the following signs:
- Signatures which appear inconsistent
- Missing legal or financial documents
- Difficulty explaining spending or withdrawals from bank accounts
- A new friend or carer who behaves suspiciously regarding finances
- Utilities, bills or rent which haven’t been paid
Neglect, as a form of elder abuse, is when a caregiver does not fully attend to the needs of the elderly person.
This can take the form of failing to provide enough water, food, clothing or medication. It could also be a failure to bathe or dress the person adequately. An unsafe or unclean environment can also be a form of neglect.
Sometimes a caregiver is willfully neglectful, but sometimes they may not realize there is a problem.
If an older person is experiencing neglect, you may be aware of the following:
- Poor personal hygiene. This may appear as dirty clothing, being unwashed or unkempt
- Bedsores, skin rashes and any other conditions which would be avoided with proper care
- Missing or broken personal items such as glasses, dentures, walking aids or hearing aids
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
How To Address Signs of Elder Abuse
Older people who have become a victim of elder abuse may be ashamed or afraid to speak up. Knowing the signs will enable you to help protect your loved ones. If you suspect that someone is experiencing any of the above forms of abuse, you can help.
Firstly, try speaking privately with the victim. Let them know your concerns and that you wish to help them. If they are unwilling to discuss the matter, it may be that they are being abused. If they disclose to you that they are being abused, call 911.
If the issue appears less urgent, get in touch with Adult Protective Services in the victim’s state. They will send someone to visit and make checks. If necessary, they will then take the appropriate steps to ensure the elderly person’s safety.
If you require legal advice on elder abuse, find a law firm. There are also agencies and charities that can assist older people with different types of legal and emotional problems.
The Bottom Line
If you’re concerned that a parent or loved one is at risk, look out for the signs of elder abuse. Arming yourself with this information will help you to protect the older people in your life.
Seek professional advice if you have any concerns. Support is available.
Share this article on social media to spread the word on elder abuse. This information could help someone in need.