When the word “abuse” is heard, many individuals often visualize the victims as young children and/or women. There is, however, another cohort of individuals who are abused as well – Older adults. Whether abused by relatives, health care professionals or “trusted” acquaintances, abuse among older adults is generally under-reported and unrecognized. Below is some brief information about elder abuse and the types of abuse that older adults experience.
Elder abuse, as defined by the Administration on Aging, refers to “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver, or any other person, that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult."
Physical abuse is any action that causes bodily harm like hitting, pushing, or slapping. Since such actions generally result in bruising, it is important to inquire about any markings you notice on an older adult. It is also just as important to make sure their explanation matches the size, color and location of the bruise. For example, a bruise that is purple or blue indicates it is fresh as opposed to one that occurred last week. While it is common for older adults to bruise easily, it is essential to inquire about any and all markings, especially if there have been changes in your loved one’s social environment (i.e. new friends, visits from estranged relatives, etc.)
Financial abuse or exploitation can occur in the form of forged checks, unauthorized bank withdrawals and credit card usage, coaxing someone to sign over his/her property, etc. This type of abuse can generally be identified by reviewing your loved one’s financial records and questioning any abnormal transactions you notice.
Emotional abuse can consist of yelling, threatening, or preventing an older adult from engaging in certain activities. Signs that someone is being psychologically abused can include - being “on edge” when around a particular person, telling you about “mean” things someone is saying to them, or overhearing a conversation whereby it appears someone is threatening them. Even a statement like “You better do what I say or I’m going to put you in a nursing home!” can be construed as emotional abuse.
Sexual abuse is defined as any coerced, forced or threatened attack that is sexual in nature. Sexual contact is also considered abuse if the victim is unable to give consent. Noticing this type of abuse can be harder as bruises can be in places that many people don’t see, like around the chest or genital area. Aside from examining your loved one, asking directly about this type of abuse may be the only way to initially identify it.
Neglect is defined as a caregiver’s refusal or failure to provide an older adult with the care they need, especially around issues like hygiene, nutrition, medical attention, etc. If you are noticing significant changes in your loved one’s hygiene, appearance and weight, while they are under the care and supervision of a relative or health care professional, it may be possible they are being neglected.
While it may be hard for us to believe older adults, especially our parents, can fall victim to abuses other than phone/mail scams, it is important to understand that by monitoring your loved one’s care, following up with any “odd behavior” you notice, talking directly with him/her about your concerns and/or consulting with his/her medical professional it can help minimize the chances of them being taken advantage of.
Do you have any questions you would like to ask about warning signs or resources avaiable for elder abuse?
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.