by Stacy Donnelly
Elder abuse is an intentional or knowing act, or failure to act by a caregiver or another person that causes harm or serious risk to a vulnerable elder person, age 60 or older. According to the National Council on Aging, approx. 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. However, it is estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse ever get reported to the authorities. Elder adults who have been abused are at a much greater risk of death than those who have not been a victim of abuse.
Elder abuse can happen to anyone of any ethnic background, gender, and socioeconomic status. The abuser or perpetrator is typically known to the victim such as a relative, caregiver, or “trusted other” and data shows that perpetrators come from all backgrounds, genders, and socioeconomic statuses.
Many times, there are signs of abuse or neglect that go unnoticed. Below, we highlight some of the common warning signs that may indicate abuse is occurring. We also provide advice on how to report abuse and ensure the welfare of your loved ones.
It is important to remember that these signs of abuse do not necessarily confirm that abuse is occurring, but should serve as indicators of a possible problem that requires a heightened awareness.
- Sexual abuse warning signs could be sudden and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases, bruising, cuts and sores in or around the breasts, genitalia, inner thighs, and buttocks.
- Physical abuse warning signs can include unexplained injuries such as bruises, fractures, cuts, sores, burns and pressure marks.
- Emotional abuse warning signs may present as unexplained or uncharacteristic changes in mood and behavior, self-isolation, and withdrawal from previously engaged activities.
- Financial abuse warning signs include a sudden or slow onset of an inability to afford amenities. The person may be excessively gifting money to an organization, a friend, a family member or companion. A caregiver, family member or Power of Attorney may have control of the person’s finances, and still the needs of the elder person are not being met. Financial abuse also occurs when the person has signed away property, money, or assets but is unable to comprehend what the transaction means.
- Neglect warning signs include lack of basic hygiene, appropriate clothing, food, and/or medical care. The elder person may be unkempt, have an odor, bedsores, sudden unexplained weight loss or dehydration. The person may also be left unattended or in bed without proper care. Their home or environment may be dirty, cluttered, in disrepair, lack heating, water, electricity and appropriate appliances.
With any type of abuse there are also some warning signs not directly related to the person being abused. These warning signs may include actions of the caregiver such as isolating the person, being verbally or physically aggressive, or frequenting financial institutions.
What You Can Do
If you suspect an elder person is being abused you should report your suspicions. You do not need to have proof or be able to prove the abuse is taking place in order to make a report. If the person is in immediate danger, you should call your local police or 911. If you do not feel they are in a life-threatening situation, you should contact your local Adult Protective Service agencies. If you need assistance in locating your local agency, you can call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116. You cannot be identified to the abuser or the alleged victim. If you are the victim of abuse you should tell your doctor, family, trusted friend or call your local Adult Protective Service agency.