An elderly woman sitting on a couch
Elder abuse can stem from caregivers, or close friends and family members.

Elder Abuse Awareness is Key for Prevention

As an individual ages, they become more dependent on others to meet their needs in order to live a happy and fulfilled life. Unfortunately, this increased dependency on others results in an increased risk of elder abuse. Elder abuse occurs when someone harms or disregards an individual aged 60 years or older. No one is immune to elder abuse; all seniors, regardless of age, race, religion, or culture, can be affected.

Elder abuse can stem from various people including family members, caregivers, or friends and neighbors, and can happen in a senior’s home, at a nursing/assisted living facility, or at a relative’s home.

In many cases, elderly individuals that have been the victim of elder abuse fear or shy away from speaking about it. However, if you pay attention to details and understand the signs to look for, the health and safety of your loved ones will be improved.

Elder Abuse Statistics

With the aging population, elder abuse has become a serious public health concern over the past few years. A 2017 study using data from 52 studies in 28 nations from different regions, with 12 low-and middle-income nations included, revealed that over the last year 15.7 percent of individuals aged 60 years and older experienced some form of abuse.

However, this figure is likely an underestimation given the fact that just one in 24 elder mistreatment cases is reported, because older persons fear reporting cases of mistreatment to friends, family, or even the authorities.

Data on the magnitude of elder abuse in institutions, including medical centers, nursing homes, hospitals, and other long-term care centers, are limited. However, organized reviews and meta-analyses of new studies on elder mistreatment at both institutional and community levels relying on self-reports by seniors indicate that the magnitude of abuse is greater in institutions compared to that seen in the community.

Types of Elder Abuse

When you think of abuse, you might think of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. However, elder abuse encompasses much more than this. Below, we’ll outline the various types of elder abuse as described by the National Institute of Aging.

Physical Abuse: Occurs when a person physically inflicts bodily harm by beating, slapping, pushing, etc.

Emotional and/or psychological abuse: Involves a caregiver, relative, or neighbor saying upsetting words, threatening, shouting, or recurrently ignoring the older adult, as well as preventing the older person from seeing and engaging with loved ones and close friends.

Neglect: This happens when the caregiver fails to address the needs of the older person.

Abandonment: Involves leaving an older adult alone without arranging for their care.

Sexual abuse: Entails forcing a senior to watch or participate in sexual activities.

Healthcare fraud: Includes such things as overcharging, double charging for services, billing for service that wasn’t rendered, or forging Medicare or Medicaid claims. Doctors, hospital staff, and other healthcare workers can commit this malicious act.

Financial abuse: Entails stealing money or properties belonging to an older adult. It can consist of falsifying checks, withdrawing money from someone else’s bank accounts, and enjoying the social security and retirement benefits of another person. It may also involve replacing names on a will, the title to a house, life insurance policy, or bank account without consent from the older adult.

Common Signs of Elder Abuse

You may detect signs of neglect and mistreatment when you visit your elderly loved one. You may discover the senior:

  • Has sleeping difficulties
  • Appears confused or depressed
  • Has lost a significant amount of weight for no apparent reason
  • Show signs of trauma, including rocking back and forth
  • Displays signs of withdrawal
  • Has baffling burns, bruises, or scars
  • Looks untidy (i.e. dirty clothes, unwashed hair, etc.)
  • Has bed sores
  • Acts stressed or violent

If you notice signs of abuse, try speaking with the senior to determine what is happening. Try to find out who is involved, as it could be a family member neighbor, caregiver, or another resident. Most importantly, don’t ignore warning signs, and ensure that the matter is addressed accordingly.

Preventing Elder Abuse

There are various steps you can take to ensure the health and safety of your loved ones. Below are some tips to prevent elder abuse.

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Don’t isolate elders: Isolating elders can result in loneliness, sadness, and depression, which can elevate the likelihood of abuse or neglect.

Keep in touch with your elders: Maintain constant communication. Visit them regularly to offer care, and check for signs that may indicate abuse.

Keep older persons active: By maintaining an active lifestyle, elderly persons can extend their life and reduce their probability of being elder abuse victims.

Seniors should be in full control of their finances: Although seniors may need the help of an honest relative or caregiver when it comes to managing their money, if possible, they should ultimately be responsible for financial decisions

Reporting Elder Abuse

Most states have compulsory laws in place for reporting cases of elder abuse. Adult protective services are also available in all states. If you notice signs of elder abuse, the first step is documentation. You may take notes of behavior changes and any injuries, photograph injuries, and ask any witness to help you prepare a written statement. These things may come in handy in proving your suspicions and may help the case be addressed fast.

If the older adult is residing in an elder care facility or a nursing home, reach out to your long-term care (LTC) ombudsman program. The role of an ombudsman program in each state is to handle complaints and represent seniors living in LTC facilities. These experts can further investigate the situation and make any necessary adjustments to the claim.

In the case of severe abuse, or you feel the senior is in danger, do not hesitate to contact your local police station. The officers will investigate and provide the person with help as required.

Neglect or mistreatment of older adults won’t come to an end by itself. Everyone has a duty to step in and offer help. If you suspect an elderly person is the victim of any form of abuse, whether it is physical, psychological, or financial, engage them privately and find out what is going on, and take the necessary steps to remedy the situation.