As adults age, they run an increased risk of being abused. Research today even demonstrates that they are less likely to take proactive steps to avoid abusive situations and recognize warning signs. Unfortunately, abuse and maltreatment can occur in their own homes, in relatives’ homes and even in long-term care facilities.
Unfortunately, new forms of elder abuse continue to emerge. Elder abuse includes physical, emotional or sexual harm, financial exploitation or neglect of the elder’s welfare. This harm and neglect can even be at the hands of the people who are directly responsible for providing care. In fact, family members are at times the biggest perpetrators of this crime which causes an emotional guilt that results in the elder not reporting the crime.
Due to the fact that many elders face the complications of aging such as increased frailty, hearing loss and cognitive issues, they may face an increased reliance on the caregiver.
Our goal is to raise awareness in our community to prevent crimes like this from taking place. With World Elder Abuse Awareness Day approaching, let us share with you just a few signs you, or a loved one, can look for when trying to determine if elder abuse is occurring.
Physical Abuse Warning Signs
Unexplained signs of injury are one of the biggest signs of physical abuse. If your loved one does not have an illness that results in a higher frequency of bruising, welts or scars, this could be physical abuse.
One thing to look for is symmetrical bruising on two sides of the body. This suggests someone may have forcefully grabbed your loved one. Some more severe signs include broken bones and joint dislocations, signs of being restrained, drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication. In addition, if the caregiver refuses to let you see your loved one alone, there is an increased likelihood that physical abuse is occurring. Be careful because when the caregiver is in the room with you, he or she can distract you from realizing the warning signs on their body.
Sexual Abuse Warning Signs
Unfortunately, the sexual abuse of elders does occur. It is also one of the least reported crimes by elders. This is most likely the result of a generation that did not have as open a culture. Be sure that you do not avoid discussing this form of abuse with your elderly loved ones. Some of the most common signs of this are unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding, bruising around the genitals or breasts, and damaged underwear. Do not create a culture of silence and, because these signs can be concealed easily, be sure to keep a watchful eye.
Emotional Abuse Warning Signs
If you notice the caregiver is threatening, controlling or belittling, he or she may be emotionally abusing the elder. Take special notice to see how the caregiver asks the elder to do something or reacts when the elder does not hear properly the first time. Caregivers who emotionally abuse elders typically get frustrated when elders do not hear, understand or follow instructions properly. If the elder is mimicking dementia behavior, such as rocking, sucking or mumbling to themselves, it can be a classic sign of emotional abuse.
Elder Neglect Warning Signs
Another common form of abuse today is elder neglect. In neglect scenarios, a caregiver neglects providing proper care. Signs of this form of abuse can include unusual weight loss, dehydration or malnutrition. In addition, untreated bedsores, unsanitary living conditions, being left unbathed or dirty in unsafe living conditions are all warning signs of elder neglect.
Financial Exploitation Warning Signs
You want to keep an eye on the elder’s finances and bank accounts. Signs of financial exploitation can include significant withdrawals from the elder’s accounts, unexpected changes in his or her financial condition, important or valuable items missing from the house, unnecessary subscriptions or withdrawals from ATMs even when he or she has limited mobility. Do not forget to ask your loved one about his or her estate planning. Suspicious changes to last will and testaments or other estate planning documents, can signify a serious problem.
Elder abuse can happen at any time. When you have an elder loved who lives alone or is being taken care of by someone else, be sure to keep a watchful eye. While you may trust the caregiver, especially if he or she is a family member, know that elder abuse can happen to anyone, by anyone.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is all about family and has a passion for educating his community about trust and estate planning, veterans issues, and how to protect what matters most.