Elder Abuse: Could Your Loved One Be a Target?


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Caring for a senior loved one means taking complete responsibility for their comfort, safety, and well-being. Sometimes this includes doing so in spite of difficult diseases and conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or a general lack of mobility. But regardless of whether your loved one lives in long-term care facility or at home with a full-time aide, the unfortunate fact is they may be at risk for abuse or neglect. Read on to find out what constitutes these crimes and what you can do about them.

Physical elder abuse

One of the most common forms of elder abuse is physical abuse. Seniors suffering from a variety of medical conditions may be unable to defend themselves or even speak up if abuse is occurring. Common signs include the following:

  • Unexplained injuries (bruises, cuts, burns, etc.)
  • Signs of inappropriate physical restraint (such as marks on wrists or ankles)
  • Signs of chemical restraint (such as excessive or unauthorized sedation)
  • Broken bones
  • Sprained muscles

Emotional elder abuse

Senior emotional abuse is often not taken as seriously as physical abuse, but it should be. This type of cruelty and mistreatment can leave invisible scars that are just as damaging as any you see on an elder’s body. Speak up if you notice these symptoms of emotional abuse:

  • Fearful or anxious behavior (particularly around certain people)
  • Refusal to maintain eye contact
  • Reluctance to discuss health or other issues that are bothering them (for fear of the abuser learning about it and retaliating)
  • Withdrawn or apathetic demeanor (unexplained by illness)
  • Crying, moaning, and other non-verbal signs of distress (unrelated to conditions such as clinical depression or Alzheimer’s)

Financial elder abuse

Financial abuse is a type you may not hear of as often as other forms, but it is no less prevalent. Unfortunately, seniors are an age group that is seen as ripe for the picking in this regard, and for several reasons. One is because they are often physically or mentally unable to manage their own finances. Lack of oversight and control over bank accounts, checkbooks, and benefits they receive can leave them vulnerable to the greedy and unscrupulous.
In addition, many are generous with charities and other worthy causes, some of whom may not be legitimate. Finally, today’s seniors were typically raised to be more trusting of authority figures than later generations, but this trust may be misplaced if the authority is misusing their funds. Look for these indicators that financial abuse is occurring:

  • Excessive funds disappearing from bank accounts, or funds deducted that are disproportionate to the expense
  • Bills not paid on time (or not at all) if another person is responsible for the senior’s finances
  • Items missing from the senior’s living space, including jewelry, cash, electronics, and personal information
  • Sudden, unexplained changes in financial or medical documents, such as a Power of Attorney, advanced directive, or will

Elder neglect

Closely related to the concept of elder abuse is neglect. Neglect means denying basic necessities to a person, whether these necessities are food, water, medication, or even the need for social interaction. But make no mistake – neglect is no less dangerous or deadly when it comes to a senior’s health and safety. Get your elder immediate attention if you see:

  • Poor attention paid to the elder’s hygiene
  • Sudden or dramatic weight loss (unrelated to medical condition)
  • Dehydration
  • Infections or bed sores that don’t heal
  • Delayed or denied medication administration
  • Dangerous or unsanitary environmental conditions
  • Unwarranted social isolation

Don’t wait to address elder abuse

If you suspect that your loved one is a victim of elder abuse, don’t wait before taking action. Doing so can permanently damage the health of a senior you care about – or worse. Call your local Adult Protective Services number right away and report it. If you’re unsure if what you’re seeing constitutes abuse, be sure to ask. When it comes to protecting the well-being of someone close to you, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.

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