As defined by the CDC, “elder abuse is an intention act,or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.”
Many do not realize that elder abuse is not only a prominent problem, but a growing one. As more and more baby boomers reach the age of retirement, more and more in the elder community reach a point in their lives where medical conditions become debilitating. Perhaps they are unable to walk without assistance. Perhaps their mind is fading. Whatever it is, these older adults need assistance to progress through life as normal. Abuse can be perpetrated in nursing homes, by in-home caretakers, and even the older adult’s spouse or family.
In a study by Nursing Home Abuse Center, around one to two million U.S. citizens over the age of 65 have experienced some form of elder abuse, and only one of every 14 incidents are reported. This is a huge, alarming number. So what exactly are the different types of elder abuse, how can they be noticed, and how can they be prevented?
Neglect is the failure to protect the elder from harm, or the failure to meet the needs of essential medical care, such as nutrition, hydration, clothing, or shelter. Indicators of neglect are evidence of poor hygiene, untreated abrasions or bedsores, unexplained weight loss, or unsanitary living conditions.
Emotional abuse is behavior indented to inflict mental pain, fear, or distress — such as through humiliation, threatening, isolation, or control. An elder who has been emotionally abused will likely be withdrawn, unwilling to communicate, visibly upset, anger or fear, or unusual behavior indicating dementia (sucking or rocking).
Physical abuse is the intentional use of force to result in chronic illness, injury, physical pain, functional impairment, or death. Indicators of physical abuse are bruises, welts, suspicious burns, scratches, or cuts, broken bones, radical changes in behavior, and in the case of elder home situations, refusal to allow visitors.
Sexual abuse is forced, non-consensual sexual interaction of any kind. Elders who have been sexually abused may exhibit signs similar to the symptoms of emotional abuse, and potentially physical abuse.
Financial abuse is the unauthorized or improper use of an elder’s resources. Evidence of this may include changes in bank accounts, abrupt changes in the will or estate plan, disappearance of money or valuables, payment for unnecessary services, and failure to pay bills in a timely manner.
What to do about it?
Pay close attention to the well-being of your elderly loved ones. Take note of oddities the moment they are noticed. Survey the older adult for injuries and/or indicators of neglect on a regular basis. Ask the elder and the caregiver questions about care giving practices. If you notice any signs of abuse, report it, and you have been denied visitation for an extended period of time, report it.
The best way to protect our older loved ones is by remaining vigilant. Failure to report abuse can have criminal penalties. Make sure your loved ones are being taken care of with the respect the deserve.