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How To Spot Elder Abuse

by Phil Levin, Esq. on March 1st, 2021

Unfortunately, more and more members of our senior population are being subjected to mistreatment, both in their homes and in care facilities. That vulnerable population is increasing. In 2017, about 22 percent of the U.S. population was age 60 and older. That number is projected to increase to 28 percent by 2050. If you want to protect yourself or an aging loved one, it is essential to recognize the signs of elder abuse and neglect. When someone mentions elder abuse, we usually think of physical harm. However, there are other forms of mistreatment of seniors.
The primary categories of elder abuse are:

Physical or sexual abuse, including relationship violence or violence within the home
Financial abuse
Psychological abuse
Neglect by a caregiver
Self-neglect by the elderly person.
Physical or Sexual Abuse

When someone is physically or sexually abusing a senior, there are usually some red flags to alert you. However, you must be observant and aware of the symptoms. Physical abuse can include any harmful or unwanted physical contact, like slapping, hitting, pushing or shoving. Sexual abuse can encompass any unwanted or nonconsensual sexual contact or activity. In addition, it includes any sexual contact or activity for which the senior does not have the capacity to give consent, because she is asleep, unconscious or has cognitive issues.
Signs of physical abuse can include:

Unexplained injuries, like bruises, scrapes, cuts, burns or broken bones.
Repeated injuries, even when someone offers an explanation.
Sudden or unusual mood or personality changes. Abuse victims often become depressed, anxious, angry, restless, hopeless or sad.
Unusual reactions of the victim to specific individuals. If your loved one acts fearful, anxious, or hostile toward someone or “shuts down” in the presence of that person, he might be doing so in response to mistreatment.
A relative or caregiver does not allow the senior to meet with a doctor alone or isolates the senior from friends, relatives and social activities.
How big is the physical abuse problem? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of non-fatal assaults against men age 60 and older grew by 75.4 percent between 2002 and 2016. Similarly, the rate of non-fatal assaults against women of the same age range increased by 35.4 percent during the same period. Interestingly, some 58 percent of the perpetrators were related to or knew their elder victims.
Symptoms of elder sexual abuse can include

Sexually-transmitted infections (STDs).
Injuries around the genital area.
Mood, behavioral, or personality changes in general or especially when the abuser is around the senior.
Financial Abuse

Strangers, friends, relatives and people in a position of trust steal from aging adults at staggering rates. Look into the situation, if you notice any of these factors:
The senior’s bills are going unpaid, late notices are piling up and the utility companies have cut off services.
Valuables go missing from the senior’s home or nursing home room.
His bank and investment accounts are lower than they should be.
Her credit card balances are higher than they should be.
Psychological Abuse

Some people act as if a person loses value when he becomes old. As a result, it does not matter how one treats him. Other people are hateful and mean to anyone who is vulnerable, regardless of age. Be on your guard, if someone treats your loved one with disrespect, impatience, anger, hostility or any other inappropriate attitude. You should also look for mood, personality or behavioral changes in the senior.
Caregiver Neglect

The gross failure to provide appropriate care to someone in your charge is abuse. Whether the caregiver is an unpaid friend or relative, a paid in-home caregiver or a member of the nursing home staff, unacceptable levels of care can take neglect up to the level of abuse. Here are some examples of caregiver neglect that can be abuse:

Unexplained weight loss, which can mean that the senior is not getting enough food or an insufficient quality of nutritious food to eat. Both quantity and quality can be issues.
Dry skin and cracked lips (indicating dehydration, which can be lethal to a senior).
Messy, unwashed hair and skin, a sign that the senior is not getting regular baths or grooming.
Dirty clothes or bed linens.
Odor of urine, feces, or body odor. A person’s house or a nursing home should never have these smells.

Closing Thoughts

Abusive people permeate our society, so there is no “safe” group you can assume will never harm your senior loved one. If you see any symptoms of abuse, you need to act quickly to get your loved one into a safe place. You should then be sure to report the incident to law enforcement.
Educate yourself and others about this important issue, to include how to recognize the signs of elder abuse when you see them.

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