If you Google the term “elder abuse” right now you’ll unfortunately find news stories that are still breaking. It is estimated that 2.1 million cases of elder abuse are reported each year. While that number is staggering, for every one case reported, as many as thirteen elder abuse cases go unreported. The horror stories of abuse are one reason many people hold a poor opinion of assisted living facilities. Care facilities, however, are not the only place elder abuse occurs and it is sadly far more common than you think.
What Constitutes Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse does not have to be physical. It can be emotional, financial, or as simple as neglecting a person who is unable to take care of themselves. Any time a senior is improperly treated is considered elder abuse.
With age comes physical frailty, waning sight, hearing, and unfortunately the ability to stand up for oneself. At first, signs of abuse may appear to be symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or simply the natural results of aging. Abusers often try to pin the signs of abuse onto these things. Many warning signs of abuse do overlap with natural aging, but if a senior is claiming abuse they should not be ignored.
Upsettingly, a lot of people are hesitant to talk openly about abuse, especially if it is coming from a loved one; some seniors view an abusive caretaker as better than no caregiver 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.
It is hypothesized that most abuse comes from a loved one rather than a paid, professional caregiver. If you notice anything that feels strange coming from 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. Even though the senior does not have to take your help and Adult Protective Services cannot do anything against a person’s will, the larger record they have on an individual case, the easier it is to stop the abuse from happening once a senior does decide to come forward. In a case where a senior is unable to make decisions for themselves, Adult Protective Services has the authority to intervene.
Beyond physical abuse, many people between the ages of 70-89 get taken advantage of financially. In terms of actual dollars stolen, financial professionals, attorneys, and fiduciary agents make up the largest group of financial abuse perpetrators. If you are the family member of someone you believe is being taken advantage of, don’t hesitate to report it. An elder law attorney is a great resource to help out in this type of situation.
Types of Elder Abuse:
Physical Abuse: This type of abuse is the easiest to catch because it has visible symptoms. Physical abuse can include hitting, pushing, burning, restraining, cutting, or any other type of physical assault.
Sexual Abuse or abusive Sexual Contact: With any age group, this means sexual contact that is against someone’s will. For seniors specifically, sexual abuse is any instance in which the elderly person is unable to understand what is going on, cannot communicate, or is physically overpowered. This can include rape, inappropriate touching, sexualized handling or groping (either through the clothes or beneath them), or anything else that makes a person feel violated.
Psychological or Emotional Abuse: This type of abuse is when a caregiver or loved one intentionally inflicts psychological trauma through threats or coercion. Sometimes people will embarrass the senior, isolate them, or damage property to control them. If a senior behaves a certain way because they are afraid of the consequences, then they are being emotionally abused.
Neglect: This is pretty straightforward. This is when the person responsible for the senior’s wellbeing intentionally fails to provide the basic means of survival. This includes everything from literally leaving a senior alone to not providing adequate clothing, shelter, nutrition, correct medication, or access to healthcare.
Abandonment: This is when an elderly person who cannot care for him or herself is abandoned.
Financial Abuse or Exploitation: Improper uses of a senior’s funds, check forgery, coercion, or plain theft all constitute financial abuse. While often perpetrated by financial professionals, family members who have guardianship and power of attorney can also do it.
If you are at all worried and have a loved one in a place like assisted living or a nursing home, visiting on a regular basis will ease your mind knowing that your family member is being treated properly. It should go without saying, but the percentage of staff that are abusers are in the minority. Most paid caregivers are trustworthy, incredibly professional, and courteous. Either way, visiting with your loved one not only wards off abuse, but it also tells the person you care about their wellbeing. Keep an eye out for any of the warnings mentioned above when it comes to the seniors in your life.