Recognizing Elder Abuse

We all want the best for the older people in our lives. They have raised us, cared for us, and loved us through everything, so most people want the best possible care for their aging loved ones. Unfortunately, not every care provider has their best interests at heart. Elder abuse is scary to think about, but the threat looms large as older people are one of the most vulnerable groups subject to their caretakers. When a person is supposed to provide care and instead brings about harm in one way or another, many older people are either too embarrassed to broach the subject, too scared to report their abuser, or are incapable of telling someone about their abuse due a physical or mental inability to do so. That’s why it is so important to know and be able to recognize warning signs that an older person may be a victim of elder abuse. The following is a list of the major types of abuse and their warning signs.

Physical

Probably the easiest form of abuse to recognize is physical abuse. This will usually fall into one of three categories: general physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect. General physical abuse is what most people think about regarding elder abuse. Hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, or otherwise maliciously harming an older person all fall under this category. Bruises, cuts, and scrapes are the easiest way to recognize this type of abuse. However, if an older person starts becoming standoffish, flinching at physical touch, or retreating into a passive, shy persona when they were otherwise cheerful and outgoing, they may be suffering from physical abuse.

Sexual abuse in older people is not often discussed but is prevalent. This may be harder to recognize, and many aging people can be too embarrassed to report their abuse. This is due in part to the fact that sexual crimes against older people have a very low rate of conviction. Blood-stained underwear or unprecedented venereal diseases and/or genital trauma upon a doctor’s visit are signs an older person may be the victim of sexual abuse. The last type of physical abuse common in older people is neglect. This is especially common in cases where a person is bed ridden or required assistance going to the bathroom, bathing, or moving. Signs of neglect include malnutrition, severe weight loss, unhygienic living conditions, bed sores, or desertion in a public place.

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Emotional

While emotional abuse may be more difficult to detect, it has just as much impact on the health and well being of aging people. This is most common in nonverbal older people, such as those with severe dementia. Older people subject to emotional abuse are typically under the ultimate control of their caregiver which can lead to depression, anxiety, and an overall decrease in functioning. Many abusers are guilty of threats, belittling and bullying, controlling and restricting visits, controlling schedules (e.g. refusing to feed them unless they complete a task), or otherwise causing mental anguish. Many older people who are victims of emotional abuse feel they have no other option than to endure the torment and may reach out less and less as it worsens.

Financial

The last type of abuse routinely committed against older people is financial abuse. This is typically carried out by either close family members, such as children and grandchildren, or healthcare professionals, but can also be committed by strangers. It occurs when a victim is coerced, deceived, or otherwise influenced to hand over money or property. With family members, this usually done by forging an older person’s signature or tricking them into signing an individual as power of attorney who will then unjustly take finances for their own.

With healthcare workers, financial abuse is often achieved by overcharging or double charging for health services, or charging for services which have not been carried out. When strangers commit these acts, it is typically through telephone scams in which a person claims to work for the government and attempts to collect money. In many of these cases, the victim may not recognize that a person is taking advantage of them. If an older person starts suddenly withdrawing large sums of money, becomes unable to pay bills when they were previously able to do so with ease, suddenly has a new “best friend” to whom they provide financial aid, or begin to lose property unexpectedly, they may be a victim of financial abuse.

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Discussing cases of elder abuse is hard, and if you suspect someone you love is a victim, it can be even harder to take action. However, it is important to be knowledgable on the subject so that if a situation arises where you notice any of these signs, it is important to contact the authorities to investigate. When we consider that older people are living longer and, in some cases, this means their mental health fails to the point where they cannot speak up for themselves, it becomes vital that any information regarding signs of elder abuse be reported for the safety of potential victims. You may be saving more than one victim by speaking up for those who are vulnerable.