Elder Abuse Awareness: What You Need to Know

As seniors age, they become more dependent on others for care. When an elderly person loses the ability to take care of himself/herself, family members are often expected to provide care. However, research reveals that elderly people can become vulnerable to neglect, abuse and exploitation.

The thought of someone harming an elderly person is abominable, but, unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) states, “In most cases, elder abuse is executed by known and trusted persons, particularly family members.” Seniors who stay in their own homes can be exploited by their family members, nurses and professional caregivers. Elders residing in institutional settings, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, can be abused by nurses, other employees, or even doctors.

To help these victims, it is crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms so they are recognized early. Professionals often overlook the signs of abuse as they can overlap with other symptoms of declining mental health. Recognizing elder abuse is pivotal to providing a prompt intervention and reducing the impact of abuse on the older person’s psychological and physical health.

Elder abuse can be categorized into six areas, each with a set of signs to be on the lookout for:

1. Abandonment

Elder abandonment generally occurs when a person who has responsibility of providing care has decided to abruptly terminate those duties via separation. The victim might be left alone in their own home or dropped off at a hospital, public location, or nursing home. Different reasons can lead to such abandonment. The caregiver might feel overburdened or might lack the resources required to provide proper care. Any elderly person who is alone and appears lost, confused or frightened may be a victim of abandonment. Other signs of abandonment include:

  • Appearing lonely or depressed
  • Being malnourished or dehydrated
  • Having poor hygiene

2. Neglect

If a senior is physically disabled and needs help while getting dressed or taking medication, it is the responsibility of the caregiver or family members to assist the individual. If a care giver knowingly refuses to provide assistance, it is considered neglect and intentional abuse. Alternatively, if the care giver is overburdened or untrained, then the abuse may be unintentional, or passive neglect. Signs of neglect include:

  • Dirty clothes
  • Soiled diapers
  • Messy household
  • Bedsores
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Lack of essential medical aids

3. Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is extremely difficult to spot, as the victim may be unable to convey his/her feelings because of certain illnesses, dementia, or fear of being neglected by the family members or caregivers. Emotional abuse can include threats of physical harm or isolation. It is not uncommon for an adult child or spouse to isolate the victim from the outside world, disallowing calls or visitors, so no one can sense what’s happening inside the house. Generally, signs of emotional abuse can include:

  • Withdrawal and apathy
  • Nervousness or fearful behavior in presence of the caregiver
  • Strained or tense relationship with the caregiver
  • Caregiver who is snapping or yelling at the elder
  • Forced isolation by the family member/caregiver

4. Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation is quote common, with older adults being particularly vulnerable to this type of abuse. Seniors generally tend to have a higher net worth than younger adults, which makes them an easy prey. Elderly suffering from cognitive impairment are also at greater risk since they are easy to take advantage of. Sometimes, both family and paid caregivers can be accused of collaborating to victimize the person. Background checks are highly recommended when hiring a professional caregiver. Signs of financial exploitation include:

  • Bills not clearing
  • Unaccounted money transfers
  • Unusual purchases
  • Increased use of credit cards
  • Frequent withdrawals of cash

5. Physical Abuse

The most common sign of physical abuse against any elderly person is unexplained marks/injuries where the reasons given for such injuries do not seem plausible. It’s important to consider the medical history of the senior and look out for behavioral indicators on both the elderly person and his/her primary caregivers. Preventing an elderly person from spending time with someone other than caregivers or family, erratic explanations for injuries, or frequent visits to medical facilities for treatment are all big indicators that abuse may be taking place. Common signs of physical abuse are:

  • Bruises
  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Abrasions
  • Odd explanations of injuries

6. Sexual Abuse

It might be unimaginable, but sexual abuse of elders does take place. As seniors are perceived to be vulnerable, attackers can easily take advantage of them. Also, they are less likely to report it due to fear of or dependency on those individuals. Signs of sexual abuse are:

  • Bruises around breasts and genital area
  • Evidence of sexually transmitted diseases
  • Vaginal and rectal bleeding
  • Depressed or withdrawn behavior

If you suspect an elder abuse incident, you should be adamant about reporting it. The National Center on Elder Abuse recommends calling 911 immediately in case of emergency. In case of suspicion that abuse has occurred or is taking place, relay your concerns to the local adult protective services agency or law enforcement.

Every year the Arizona Department of Economic Security (ADES) receives thousands of reports alleging that an elder adult is the victim of neglect, abuse or exploitation. You can report any incident of elder abuse 24/7.

  • Statewide toll-free telephone reporting line is available from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays, and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekends and state holidays.
  • For life-threatening emergencies, call 911 immediately
  • For all emergency vulnerable adult maltreatment reports, call 1-877-SOS-ADULT (1-877-815-8390)

At Dependable Health Services, we take great pride in providing screened, trained, certified, professional care staff. We take our responsibility for the continuous well-being of your loved ones very seriously and train our staff to watch for signs of abuse. If you are in need of a reliable and trustworthy nurse, therapist, or home health caregiver, please contact us without hesitation.