Among the most common forms of elder abuse are physical, mental, and emotional harm committed against older adults, exploitation of their finances, or neglect of their well-being by the people who are responsible for them. Approximately half a million cases of elder abuse are reported in the United States alone each year, with millions more cases going unreported.
The physical frailty of older adults makes it more difficult for them to look after themselves, defend themselves from bullying, or fight back against attacks. Their physical or mental ailments can make them more challenging companions for those who live with them. As they age, they may not be able to see, hear, or think as clearly anymore, leaving them vulnerable to dishonest people.
Typically, elder abuse occurs where the senior lives: Most often, these abusers are adult children, members of the family like grandchildren, or spouses or partners. The abuse of elderly people can also occur in institutions, and this is particularly common in long-term care homes.
Whenever you suspect that an elderly person is being neglected or overwhelmed by their caregiver, or is being exploited financially, make sure you speak out. Every person deserves a safe, dignified, and respectful life. Using these guidelines, you will learn how to recognize signs of elder abuse, determine what risk factors exist, and determine what to do to prevent and address it.
Types Of Elder Abuse
There are many forms of elder abuse, some of which involve threatening or intimidating the elderly, some involve neglect, and some involve financial deception. Here are some of the most common:
Physical Elder Abuse
When an older person is non-accidentally attacked by force, it results in physical harm, impairment, or injury. Abuse of this nature includes physical assault such as hitting and shoving and the misuse of drugs, restraining measures, and confinement.
Emotional Elder Abuse
An older adult who is treated in a way that causes emotional or psychological distress, such as:
- Threatening or yelling to intimidate.
- Public humiliation and mockery.
- Blaming or victimizing on a regular basis.
- Neglecting the elderly.
- Keeping an elder isolated from friends or socializing.
- Threatening or harassing an elderly person.
Sexual Elder Abuse
Invasion of an elderly person’s privacy without their consent. There can be physical sex acts involved in such contact, as well as the showing of pornographic material to an elderly person, forcing the elder to watch sexual acts, and forcing the elder to take off clothing are all considered forms of sexual elder abuse.
Taking advantage of an elderly person’s funds or property without their permission, either by the caregiver or by an outside scammer. It is possible for an unscrupulous caregiver to:
- Use an elder’s personal checks, credit cards, or accounts for personal gain.
- Obtain cash, income checks, or household items by stealing them.
- Obtain the elder’s signature by forging it.
- Theft of identity.
There are a number of scams that target elders, including:
- There is an announcement that the elderly person won a prize, but they must pay money in order to claim it.
- Fraudulent charities.
- Fraudulent investments.
Healthcare Fraud And Abuse
Involving unethical doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and other providers of professional care. The following can be included:
- A healthcare provider does not provide healthcare but charges for it.
- Medical care or services are overcharged or double-billed.
- Receiving kickbacks for referring patients to other doctors or for prescribing specific medications.
- It is possible to overmedicate or under-medicate.
- Advising patients to take fraudulent remedies to cure illnesses.
- Fraudulent Medicaid claims.
Non-fulfillment of a caregiver’s duty. More than half of all elder abuse cases are reported in this category. An elderly may be neglected intentionally or unintentionally for various reasons, including ignorance or denial of their needs.
Self-neglect is a form of elder abuse observed by professional care managers most often. In some cases, physical impairments or diminished abilities can mean that older adults cannot carry out basic self-care tasks.
There is a possibility that they lack basic hygiene, show signs of dehydration, suffer from malnutrition, be underweight, have increasingly dirty and unsanitary living conditions, are unable to pay their bills, or are not properly managing their medications.
Neglecting one’s own needs can be a sign of depression, sadness, dementia, or another medical condition, and in many instances, elderly people will refuse to seek help. It is possible that they are in denial, ashamed of needing help, or afraid they might lose their independence.
Warning Signs Of Elder Abuse
It is not always easy to identify signs of elder abuse because they can be mistaken for dementia symptoms or signs of frailty, or they may be explained to you in that way by the caregiver. Often, elder abuse signs and symptoms are also signs and symptoms of mental deterioration, which doesn’t mean they should be dismissed.
The caregiver and the elder are often engaged in arguments or tension, and personality changes or behavioral changes are often signs of elder abuse. If you aren’t sure about suspected abuse, keep an eye out for the following warning signs.
Physical Abuse Warning Signs
- Signs of injury that are not explained include bruises, welts, or scars, especially symmetrical ones on both sides of the body.
- A broken bone, a sprain, or a dislocation.
- Reports of overdoses or insufficient medication intake (prescriptions that have more left over than they should).
- An eyeglass frame or lens that is broken.
- There may be signs of restraint on the wrists, such as rope marks.
- Elder care provider refuses to let you visit the elder alone.
Emotional Abuse Warning Signs
- A caregiver’s behavior is threatened, belittled, or controlled.
- It is possible that the elderly person is showing signs of dementia by rocking, sucking, or mumbling to themselves.
Sexual Abuse Warning Signs
- Bruises on the breasts or genital area.
- Bleeding in the vaginal or anal region without explanation.
- Bloodied, stained, or torn underclothes.
Elder Neglect Or Self-Neglect Warning Signs
- Symptoms of undernutrition, fluid deficiency, and an unusual loss of weight.
- Physical problems that are left untreated, such as bed sores.
- Conditions of living that are unsanitary: dirty bedding, bugs, and soiled clothing.
- Leaving oneself dirty or unbathed.
- Clothing or coverings that are inappropriate for the weather.
- Conditions that are unsafe to live in (for example, no hot water or heat, damaged wiring, or potential fire hazards).
- In public, the elder is left behind.
Financial Exploitation Warning Signs
- The elder’s accounts have been heavily withdrawn.
- A sudden change in the elder’s financial situation.
- Household items or cash are missing from the senior’s home.
- Changing wills, powers of attorney, titles, or policies without permission.
- Names are added to the signature card of the senior.
- An activity that the senior would not have been able to undertake, for example, withdrawing money from an ATM when the elderly is bedridden.
- The purchase of unnecessary goods, services, or subscriptions.
Healthcare Fraud Or Abuse Warning Signs
- The same medical device or service is billed twice.
- There is evidence that the patient is being overmedicated or undermedicated.
- The absence of evidence of inadequate care when all bills have been paid.
- There are problems in the care facility: inadequately trained, underpaid, understaffed, overcrowding, and unsatisfactory answers to care questions.
Risk Factors For Elder Abuse
The care of an elderly person can be challenging if they have many different needs, and being elderly is challenging when infirmities and dependence come along with it. A combination of caregiving demands and elder needs can result in situations more likely to lead to elder abuse.
In many cases, nonprofessional caregivers such as partners, adult children, other family members, and friends recognize that taking care of an elder can be a rewarding and enriching experience. Nonetheless, caregiving responsibilities and demands, increasing as an elder’s health deteriorates, are also likely to be stressful for the caregiver.
As a result of elder care, caregivers can suffer from mental and physical health issues, leaving them exhausted, cranky, and more likely to neglect or lash out at those in their care. Along with the caregiver’s inability to handle stress, the following factors may contribute to elder abuse:
- Caregivers who are depressed.
- Others who may be able to provide support are not available.
- Taking care of an elder is perceived as a burden that lacks emotional rewards.
- Involvement of the caregiver in substance abuse.
- There is an intensity to the elderly person’s illness or dementia.
- In most cases, elders and caregivers are alone with each other almost all the time.
- In a previous time, elders were abusive parents or spouses.
- The history of domestic violence within the family.
- Inherent aggression of the elder, whether verbal or physical.
Stress levels can occur even in institutional settings, leading to elder abuse. It is possible for nursing home staff to abuse elders if they are untrained, overburdened with duties, incapable of caring for elders, or if their working conditions are poor.
Preventing Elder Abuse And Neglect
Caregivers responsible for caring for elderly people and concerned about hurting or neglecting them can receive support and assistance.
Is your anger getting out of control, and you’re screaming louder and louder as you lash out at your care recipient? Have others expressed concern about your behavior or tension between you two? Perhaps you are simply feeling emotionally disconnected from the elderly person under your care, or perhaps you are overwhelmed by their daily needs?
In order to help yourself and prevent abuse, it is vital to acknowledge that you have a problem.
Prevention Tips If You’re A Caregiver
In order to prevent elder abuse or neglect as a caregiver, you should follow the following steps:
- Stress and burnout need to be relieved immediately. Stress contributes significantly to elder abuse and neglect. The best way to reduce your stress is to practice stress-relieving exercises regularly, for example, deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga.
- If you need assistance, you can ask friends, relatives, or local respite care agencies for help, or you can find a program for adult daycare. Taking care of an elderly person is stressful, so caregivers need regular breaks, even if only for a few hours.
- Getting control over anger is one of the most important skills you can learn.
- Make sure you look after yourself. A lack of sleep increases the likelihood of you becoming angry. Take care of your own health by eating well, exercising regularly, and taking care of your health care needs.
- Get help if you are depressed. It is especially common for family caregivers to suffer from depression; however, there are many ways to improve your mood and overcome depression.
- Join a support group if you are a caregiver for the elderly. Communicating your concerns and experiences with other caregivers can alleviate the loneliness caregivers may feel. Furthermore, it can be a great place to learn how to care for an elderly relative or loved one.
- Don’t hesitate to seek help if you are struggling with substance abuse. Drug or alcohol abuse can be challenging, but you can do plenty of things to help.
- Seek professional assistance. When you can’t seem to control your behavior despite your best efforts, contact a therapist for assistance.
Prevention Tips If You’re A Friend Or Neighbor
In the case of a concerned friend, neighbor, or family member, prevent elderly abuse by taking the following steps:
- Keep in touch and visit as often as possible, building a relationship of trust with the elder.
- Allow the caregiver to take a break by staying with the elder quite often and whenever possible.
- Ensure the elder is taking the correct amount of medication in accordance with the prescription date when monitoring their medications.
- In order to keep an eye out for financial abuse, you can check the elder’s bank accounts and credit card statements for unauthorized activity.
- Don’t wait to report abuse or neglect when you notice the warning signs.
How To Protect Yourself From Abuse As An Elder
- Maintain a good legal and financial situation. If not, seek professional assistance to get them in order, perhaps with help from a trusted friend or relative.
- Make sure you keep in touch with your family and friends and don’t isolate yourself.
- Whenever you feel unhappy about the care, you are receiving, whether at home or in a nursing home, let your voice be heard. Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you trust or make a call to an elder abuse prevention helpline.
Reporting Elder Abuse
You should tell at least one person if you are being abused, neglected, or exploited as an elder. Inform a trusted family member, friend, or doctor. You can also contact one of the helplines.
Whenever you see an older person suffering abuse or neglect, you should report the incident to the appropriate authorities. Do not hesitate to report future cases of abuse if you observe them. Whenever elder abuse is reported, it is a snapshot of what is happening at the time.
It is important to provide as much information as you can in order to ensure the elder receives the best care possible. Due to their increasingly isolated status from society and their inability to work, abuse cases often slip under the radar.
Many seniors do not report abuse even if they have the ability to do so. A few people fear retaliation from an abusive caretaker, whereas others see it as better to have an abusive caregiver than to have no caretaker at all and have to leave their home.
In cases where caregivers are children, the parents might feel ashamed or blame themselves: Perhaps they do not want their children to run into legal trouble. In any elder abuse situation, respecting an older adult’s autonomy can be challenging while also making sure they are well taken care of.
Reporting Abuse By A Caregiver
Whenever someone experiences abuse from a primary caregiver, such as an adult child, they should:
- Avoid confronting the abuser yourself. There is a risk of putting the older person in greater danger unless you have permission from them and can move them as soon as possible to a safer facility.
- Take advantage of the power of numbers. In the case of suspected abuse by a family caregiver, the older adult could be convinced to consider alternate care by other family members.
- In many cases, elder abuse goes undetected because of feelings of shame. It may be difficult to believe that a family member could abuse an older adult, or you may even fear that the older adult will be angry with you for raising the issue. However, the sooner you take action in cases of elder abuse, the better off everyone will be.
When it comes to self-neglect:
- Don’t give up, even if the elder rejects your help. Encourage others to share their feelings of concern with them. You may have a better chance of getting through to a provider if you speak with a peer or a neutral person, for example, a senior care manager.
- Ensure that medical services are available to the older adult. Due to the fact that medical conditions can cause self-neglect, be sure to speak with the elder’s doctor about your concerns.
- Provide elder home care services for a trial period. As a result, they will be able to see the potential benefits they can enjoy, allowing them to consider alternative care options. Consider encouraging them to try a food delivery service or housekeeping for a month.
- Visit assisted living facilities or other senior housing facilities without feeling pressured to move immediately. By doing so, the elderly person might be able to debunk myths or overcome fears associated with moving.
- Considering legal guardianship is a good idea. In case you are concerned that an individual cannot take care of themselves safely, you may want to consider legal guardianship or conservatorship. In the absence of a family member who can act as a guardian, the court can appoint one.
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