Watch out for elder abuse

Look for signs and know what steps to take if you suspect elder abuse.

According to the National Council on Aging (2016), 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ were victims of elder abuse. They estimate that as many as 5 million older adults are abused every year. Only 1 in 14 of those cases are actually reported to authorities. Although elder abuse can happen to anyone, the majority of the victims of elder abuse are women with little or no family or friends close by, and those with dementia, memory problems and other disabilities. Those that are dependent on others for help with everyday life tasks such as dressing and bathing are often frail and appear to be an easy victim. Any type of abuse can leave the victim feeling alone, fearful and depressed and often blaming themselves. The National Institute on Aging is a great resource for information on elder abuse.

What are the different types of abuse?

  • Physical –hitting, pushing or slapping the older person
  • Emotional –hurtful words, yelling, threatening, isolating them from friends and family
  • Neglect – not responding to the needs of the older person
  • Abandonment – leaving them alone without planning for their care
  • Sexual – forcing an older person to watch or be a part of sexual acts
  • Financial  – money or belongings are stolen
  • Healthcare fraud – overcharging for doctor visits or billing twice for the same services, falsifying Medicaid/Medicare claims
What are the signs of abuse?

When visiting an older person at home or in a facility, keep an eye out for signs of abuse or neglect. The older person might have trouble sleeping, seem depressed or confused. They may have unexplained weight loss, act agitated or violent. Look for signs of withdraw, such as no longer participate in activities they enjoy. Physical signs may be unexplained bruises, burns, scars or bedsores. They may also appear unkempt with dirty clothes or hair.

What can you do?

If you think someone you know is a victim of elder abuse, try talking to them one on one. Express your concerns and offer to find them assistance. Let them know you care about them and want them to be safe. Listen to them and believe them.

Keep in mind that the abuse could be coming from a family member, another resident, and not necessarily from a caregiver. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call 911. The Administration for Community Living has a National Center on Elder Abuse where you can learn about how to report abuse, get help, and state laws. You can also call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.

The important thing is to do something right away, don’t wait. Elder abuse, like all other forms of abuse, will not go away on its own, and may escalate without intervention. Keep in mind that there are long-term effects of elder abuse, beyond the physical healing. Victims often feel depressed or fearful and tend to blame themselves. Be the person they can come to and share their feelings or concerns. Encourage them to get support for emotional healing through a counselor or a support group. No one deserves to be hurt physically or emotionally.

If you are a full time caregiver, be sure to take time to take care of your own needs. Being a caregiver of a loved one can be one of them most rewarding roles, but it can also be one of the most stressful. Michigan State University Extension provides classes to help deal with stress: RELAX Alternatives to Anger and Stress Less with Mindfulness. Both of these classes help you to increase your awareness and skills in stress management. 

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