As many as one in 20 older adults is a victim of abuse — financial exploitation, physical neglect and emotional mistreatment. Many times the victim is female, age 75 or older and dependent on a spouse, relative or friend to provide care, food and shelter. While abuse can happen to any older person, it often affects those who depend on others for help with activities of everyday life — including bathing, dressing and taking medicine. People who are frail may appear to be easy victims. The abuser is likely to be someone living in the same house. Abuse can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter the person’s age, sex, race, religion, or ethnic or cultural background.
Types of Abuse
Unfortunately, many people do not want to get involved when they suspect elder abuse is occurring. Others, including the victim, are afraid of the abuser.
1. Elder abuse is when someone takes the money an elderly person has saved and needs to afford the basic necessities of life.
2. Elder abuse is when someone pushes or hits an elderly person.
3. Eder abuse is when no one watches out for elderly people who are no longer able to care for themselves.
4. Elder abuse is violence, theft and neglect.
Elder abuse can be emotional, sometimes called psychological abuse. This can include a caregiver saying hurtful words, yelling, threatening or repeatedly ignoring the older person. Keeping an older person from seeing close friends or relatives is another form of emotional abuse.
Neglect and abandonment can be forms of abuse. Neglect occurs when the caregiver or relative does not try to respond to the older person’s needs. Abandonment is leaving an older person alone without planning for his or her care.
Health care fraud can also be abuse. Health care fraud can be committed by doctors, hospital staff and other health care workers. It can include overcharging, billing twice for the same service, falsifying Medicaid or Medicare claims, or charging for care that wasn’t provided.
Abuse can be sexual in nature, too. Sexual abuse involves the caregiver forcing an older adult to watch or participate in sexual acts.
What should you look for?
Elder abuse is not always easy to identify. Often, it is hidden and disguised.
1. Bruises and broken bones may be blamed on falls when the real cause is punching or beating.
2. Weight loss might be the result of starvation or neglect, not illness or lack of appetite.
3. Dementia is not simply a symptom of aging. Malnutrition, drug misuse and abuse are causes, too.
4. A bank teller may notice an older customer or someone claiming to be a representative withdraw large sums from an account without apparent reason.
5. Has trouble sleeping.
6. Seems depressed or confused.
7. Acts agitated or violent.
8. Becomes withdrawn.
9. Displays signs of trauma, like rocking back and forth.
10. Stops taking part in activities he or she enjoys.
11. Looks messy, with unwashed hair or dirty clothes.
12. Develops bed sores or other preventable conditions.
If you see signs of abuse, talk with the older person to find out what’s going on. The abuse may be from another resident neighbor and not from a worker.
How can you help?
If you are faced with the decision of caring for an older family member, be sure to examine your own ability and responsibility, as well as the impact the care might have on others family members.
1. Be honest about what you can do.
2. Know your financial resources and the costs involved in caring for someone.
3. Know the medical needs of the person you want to help.
4. Seek outside help and support groups.
5. Make sure your home is accessible and easy to move around in.
6. Find out if other family members can help.
7. Visit regularly.
Caregivers can become abusers. Some caregivers will turn nasty and neglectful, while others never do. Factors influencing this kind of abuse may include how well caregivers and the person receiving care got along in the past; how the caregivers perceive the job and the amount of support they feel they get from family, social networks and the community; and whether the person receiving care has shown aggressive or difficult behaviors. Caregivers need to be mindful of the fact that they can become stressed and suffer from burnout. Most caregivers need to seek out support groups.
Tell them you think something is wrong and you’re worried. Tell them they can be taken to get help. A local adult protective services agency could be a start.
Physical wounds will heal in time. Abuse can leave the abused person feeling fearful, stressed and depressed. Many victims think the abuse is their fault. A lot of protective services agencies can suggest support groups and counseling that can help the abused person heal the emotional wounds.
If you think someone is in urgent danger, call 911 or your local police to get help right away.
Elder abuse happens everywhere — across the country, across the state and across the street. You can do something about it. If you know of an elderly person who is being harmed in any way through self-neglect or from the actions of other people — call your local Area Agency on Aging.
For more information on elder abuse, visit:
Administration on Aging U. S. Dept. of Health and Human Services: 200 Independence Ave, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201; Toll Free Call Center: (877) 696-6775
Eldercare Locator: (800) 677-1116 (toll-free); www.eldercare.gov
National Adult Protective Services Association: (217)-523-4431; www.napsa-now.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800)-799-7233 (toll-free, 24/7); (800)-787-3224 (TTY/toll-free); www.thehotline.org/get-help
Call for help!