Spotting the Signs of Elder Abuse
Learn what to look for and what you can do to help
What is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day?
"Elder abuse can be defined as a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.'”
Elder abuse comes in a variety of both intentional and unintentional forms related to neglect and systematic abuse or abuse around financial, physical, psychological, and sexual care.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) estimates that one in 10 older people suffer from some type of abuse every year. Yet the signs of elder abuse often go unreported, and abusers go unpunished.
Abuse is not limited to those living in elder care homes or communities, but rather many times, abuse is propagated by relatives or friends of the older person.
How do you recognize elder abuse?
Elder abuse may become apparent in multiple ways, and the most common difference is a change in the behavior of a loved one, including their mental, physical, or financial attitudes.
There is no one specific way to recognize this, but some signs may include:
- Weight loss or malnutrition
- Poor hygiene
- Hesitating to talk freely or making up irrational stories
- Anxiety, depression, fear, or confusion
- Injuries such as bruises, cuts, burns, or broken bones
- Unexplained loss of money, excessive gift-giving, or inability to access finances
- Withdrawal from friends and family members
- Bedsores or ulcers
- Missing medical aids such as walkers, dentures, glasses, medications, or hearing aids
- Unclean or unsafe living conditions
While elder abuse can happen to any older adult, certain factors put some older adults at higher risk than others. Usually, those most at risk are over the age of 80 and female, according to research by Northwestern University and WHO. Those who are isolated, in poor health, or cared for by a live-in caregiver who depends on them financially may also have a greater risk for abuse.
How can elder abuse be prevented?
Education is critical to preventing elder abuse. Older adults, family, friends, professionals, caregivers, and the public need to know the signs and what to do.
How can older adults stay safe?
- Stay healthy!
- Seeking professional help for drugs, alcoholism, and depression concerns
- Encourage family members to get help for drugs, alcoholism, and depression problems.
- Plan your aging process. Use power of attorney or a living will to customize your health care decisions and avoid confusion and family problems later.
- Seek independent advice from someone you trust before signing any documents.
- Review your will periodically.
- Stay active in your community and connect with friends and family.
- Do not give out personal information on the phone or allow someone else to manage your mail.
- Use direct deposit for all checks.
- Have your own phone.
- Know your rights. If you live in long-term care or pay for care, you have rights!
Be sure to look up your state’s Adult Protective Services for information regarding how to report elder abuse and neglect.