At some point, most of us have worried about an elderly person we know – whether it’s a parent, family member, or acquaintance. And that concern may not just be for their overall health; it may also be about the type of care they’re receiving.
The fact is, elder abuse is far more common than people may think. Studies done by the Senate Special Committee on Aging show that there are as many as 5 millions victims of elder abuse each year. To put it in perspective, up to 5 percent of the elderly population in the U.S. has suffered abuse. Recognizing the different kinds of abuse, and the related signs, is of vital importance in addressing the problem..
All of the following are warning signs that a loved one or another elderly person you know may be suffering from some type of abuse.
- Physical Abuse
Bruises, broken bones, burns and abrasions are all indications of possible physical abuse or mistreatment. These signs can also indicate rough handling by caregivers during transfers or re-positioning, and could even indicate force-feeding.
Another common indicator that physical abuse may be occurring is when an elderly person’s caregiver offers odd explanations for the injuries. The elder may be reluctant to discuss the physical abuse, so it’s a good idea to take them aside and have them talk specifically about the injuries and how they got them.
- Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse can take the form of verbal abuse, so any type of verbal put-downs or aggression could be red flags. Other signs of emotional abuse include the person behind fearful or intimidated of the caregiver, or exhibiting unusual behavior such as rocking or biting. Also be aware of forced isolation imposed by the caregiver or family member, as well as any other threatening or controlling behavior.
- Sexual Abuse
Even discussing this issue is uncomfortable, but sexual abusers often target vulnerable people to victimize – and older adults can be perceived as easy to overpower. Signs of sexual abuse may include bruising around the breast and genital areas, vaginal or rectal bleeding, evidence of venereal disease, depressed or withdrawn behavior, and difficulty walking or standing.
Signs of neglect may be easier to detect than signs of abuse, but they are certainly no less serious. Is your elderly loved one experiencing unusual weight loss, malnutrition or dehydration? All could be signs of neglect. But there many other potential signs, including:
- Untreated medical problems
- Unsanitary living conditions
- Soiled bedding and clothes
- A senior who is left dirty or unbathed
- Clothing that’s unsuitable for the weather
- Unsafe living conditions, such as no heat or running water, or glaring fire hazards
- Financial Exploitation
Financial exploitation is another common form of elder abuse. As the population ages and financial scammers can increasingly find their personal information online, it’s a crime that’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Those signs include significant withdrawals from the elder’s bank accounts and investments, missing items or cash, suspicious changes in wills, policies, power of attorney designation or titles, unpaid medical bills, and unusual activity such as a withdrawal from an ATM when the account holder is confined to a home or facility, or bedridden.
- Healthcare Fraud
Healthcare fraud and abuse is often closely related to financial exploitation and typically comes with it own warning signs. A prime example is duplicate billing for the same medical service and device, as well as evidence of either under-medication, over-medication, or both.
Another warning sign is any evidence of inadequate care, despite medical bills having been paid in full. Red flags at senior care facilities include insufficient and/or poorly trained staff or inadequate answers to questions about care.
Warning signs of an elderly person who is engaging in self-neglect are often similar to those of overall neglect. These include insufficient hygiene, unsuitable clothing, soiled bedding and clothing, a lack of interest in people and activities, apathy, or living in unsanitary conditions.
The dynamics of elder abuse are similar to domestic violence in that the victim may be afraid to talk about it for fear of reprisal or further neglect. Or, in some cases, the victim may be unable to reach out for help due to physical or cognitive limitations or other reasons. That’s why it’s crucial to recognize the signs of mistreatment and carefully monitor your loved one’s care to ensure they don’t fall victim to this heinous crime.