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It is possible that as our loved one’s age, they will no longer be able to care for themselves. Some may move into nursing homes or assisted living facilities, while others will reside with family, friends, and neighbors, or rely on in-home health care services. We like to believe that everyone has the best interest of our loved ones in mind. However, this is not always the case. Dependence on others can lead to abuse and is more common than we think.
According to the National Council on Aging, one in ten elderly Americans (60+) has been a victim of elder abuse. They also state it is estimated that only one of every twenty-four cases of abuse is reported. This suggests that as many as five million elders are abused every year. You may find it even more disturbing to learn that the perpetrator in nearly 60% of elder abuse cases is a family member. Whether your loved one lives in a nursing home or with a trusted individual, it is crucial to understand elder abuse and be able to recognize the signs.
What is elder abuse?
According to the CDC, elder abuse is “an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates risk of harm to an older adult. An older adult is someone age 60 or older.” This abuse typically occurs from a caregiver or an entrusted person of the elder. Elder abuse can be categorized into five types: Neglect, physical, psychological, sexual, and financial.
Neglect is when a person’s basic needs are not being met. This includes nutritional, medical, housing, hygiene, and personal care needs. It can be an intentional form of abuse, or unintentional, due to circumstances such as inadequate staffing at a nursing home or facility.
Common signs of neglect
· Dehydration or malnutrition
· Bed sores or other skin break down
· A decline in personal hygiene
· Weight loss
Psychological or emotional abuse is characterized by nonverbal or verbal behaviors that cause fear, distress, mental suffering, or anguish. This type of abuse can include threatening behavior, intimidation, humiliation, manipulation, harassment, criticism, shaming, isolation, power dynamics, or exploitation. Psychological abuse can be more challenging to recognize as it is more subtle. But many times, it is accompanied by other forms of abuse.
Common signs of psychological abuse
· Timid or withdrawn behavior
· Depression and/or anxiety
· Anger, agitation and/or aggression
· Sudden weight loss or loss of appetite
· Behavioral changes
Physical abuse is the intentional harm or injury to another. Physical abuse can result from hitting, kicking, pushing, grabbing, pinching, biting, or any forceful action. It can also be a result of the overuse of restraints or bed injuries from physical neglect. It’s important to note that even though we may believe physical abuse is easy to identify, that is not always the case. Physical abuse can be covered up with clothing or by false narratives of stumbles and accidents.
Common signs of physical abuse
· Bruises and abrasions
· Falls and fractures
· Head injuries
· The caregiver or staff does not leave the elder alone when in the presence of others
· New or repetitive stories of accidents, falls, or stumbles
Sexual abuse is the act of any unwanted, forced, or non-consensual sexual interaction, attention, or exploitation. This type of abuse can take many forms. For example, it may include intercourse, non-consensual touching, exposing the elder or exposing oneself to the elder, sexual advances, and verbal obscenities. Sexual abuse can be especially hard to identify in those who are cognitively impaired, in cases such as dementia.
Common signs of sexual abuse
· Pelvic injury
· Difficulty walking or sitting
· Bruising around the breast, genitals, or inner thigh area
· Bloodstained underwear
· Behavior or mood changes
· Unusual sexual behavior or comments
Financial abuse takes place when a caregiver or trusted individual improperly or illegally takes advantage of an elder’s money, belongings, benefits, assets, or property for the benefit of themselves or someone other than the elder. For example, it can include stealing money from bank accounts, applying for credit cards, incorrect billing of services, identification theft, and selling assets.
Common signs of financial abuse
· Caregivers demanding money
· Unknown charges to credit cards or bank statements
· Sudden mismanagement of personal finances
· Suspicious documents or forged signatures
What to do if elder abuse is suspected?
If you suspect a loved one is being abused, it is important to take action. First, it is essential to make sure that your loved one is safe. Removing a loved one from a facility or their abuser may be necessary. Then you want to report the suspected abuse to local authorities. If you feel that it is safe to do so, ask questions and pay close attention to the responses you receive. This may give you more information to provide when reporting. Next, consult with an attorney to ensure that proper legal action is taken to protect the victim of abuse.
The elderly population is a vulnerable one. Most times, they cannot protect themselves from abuse. Therefore, you must be aware of what to look for to best protect your loved ones as they age. If you suspect elder abuse or have questions about the topic, please contact us at (352) 565-7737!