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Published on: April 19, 2016
by Max Gottlieb for Senior Planning:
We’ve all seen the horror stories on the news about elder abuse. The fear of abuse is one reason many people view assisted living or group homes in a negative light. Care facilities, however, are not the only place elder abuse can occur, and elder abuse is more common than you might think.
What is elder abuse?
At first, signs of abuse may appear to be symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or simply the natural results of frailty that come with age. Abusive caregivers often explain away signs by pinning them onto these things. Many of the warning signs do overlap with the natural symptoms of mental and physical degeneration, but a senior’s claim of abuse should still be taken seriously. Also, seniors are sometimes hesitant to talk openly about abuse if it is coming from a loved one. In fact, it is estimated that more abuse comes from loved ones than from paid professionals. If you notice something strange happening to a neighbor or someone else you may be close with, like bruises or uncalled for cautiousness around you, it is important to notify Adult Protective Services.
As people age, they become more physically frail and less able to stand up to bullying. Waning sight, memory, and hearing can allow seniors to be easily taken advantage of. Ailments might make seniors more difficult to live with or more taxing on the nerves, causing those around them to lash out in frustration. Keep in mind, elder abuse does not have to be physical. Sometimes caretakers will simply leave their dependents alone, and neglect can be dangerous for senior citizens who are unable to care for themselves. Any time a senior is not being treated correctly, this constitutes elder abuse.
Beyond physical abuse, many people between the ages of 70-89 suffer elder financial abuse. The largest group of financial abuse perpetrators, in terms of dollars stolen, includes financial professionals, attorneys, and fiduciary agents. If you are the family member of someone you believe is being taken advantage of, don’t hesitate to report it to Adult Protective Services. In the U.S. alone, more than half a million reports of abuse are recorded annually, but there are many more cases that are never reported.
Specific types of elder abuse:
Physical Abuse: This type of abuse is the easiest to recognize because it manifests itself in outward signs. This can include hitting, pushing, burning, restraining, cutting, or any other type of physical assault.
Sexual Abuse or abusive Sexual Contact: As with people of any age group, this is any sexual contact against someone’s will. For elderly people specifically, this includes instances when the elderly person is unable to understand what is going on or cannot communicate. This can include rape, inappropriate touching, handling or groping (either through the clothes or beneath them).
Psychological or Emotional Abuse: This occurs when an elderly person experiences psychological trauma after being threatened or coerced. Sometimes people will embarrass the senior, isolate them, or damage property to control them.
Neglect: is when a caregiver or other responsible party fails to provide the basic means of survival for their dependent. This includes not providing adequate clothing, shelter, nutrition, correct medication, or access to healthcare.
Abandonment: is when a caregiver abandons an elderly person who cannot care for him or herself.
Financial Abuse or Exploitation: This is when a senior is taken advantage of financially either through improper use of their funds, forgery, coercion, or plain theft. This is not only perpetrated by financial professionals, but often through family members who have guardianship and power of attorney.
Some general signs of abuse:
Try to Alert Authorities:
Seniors have the right to refuse aid unless they are unable to make decisions for themselves. This means that although you report the abuse, there may be no way for authorities to help. Even more heartbreaking, some seniors view an abusive caretaker as better than no caretaker at all. In a situation like this, it is important to stay supportive and tell the senior they have alternatives. When reporting abuse, you don’t necessarily need hard evidence. In many situations, abuse can be gradual with very subtle changes so it is important to stay aware.
The more details you provide Adult Protective Services, the better. Even if you don’t think your report will help or the elderly person refuses aid, each reported instance provides a catalogue of what is going on. The more information provided, the better the chance you can get through to the senior and get him/her the care they need. Older people can become very isolated from the rest of the community because with no work obligations, familial obligations, or school obligations, it is difficult to see subtle signs that are more obvious through daily contact. It is very easy for abuse to go unnoticed for long periods.
If you have a loved one in an institutional setting like a nursing home, regular visits can ensure that your family member is being treated fairly. Of course, most attendants and staff are not perpetrators of abuse. But visiting with your loved one not only deters staff from taking advantage of their patient, it also tells your loved one you care about their wellbeing. Keep an eye out for any of the signs mentioned above when it comes to taking care of the seniors in your life.
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