The National Center on Elder Abuse has designated the month of June as Elder Abuse Awareness Month. Every year hundreds of thousands of senior citizens are abused, neglected, and exploited. Many of the victims are frail and vulnerable and cannot help themselves. They are dependent on caregivers to provide for their care.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, senior abuse can be classified into seven categories:
- Physical Abuse. Inflicting physical pain or injury to a senior such as slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical or chemical means.
- Sexual Abuse. Any form of non-consensual sexual contact.
- Illegal taking of senior’s property or other assets of seniors without their consent.
- The failure of those responsible to provide food, shelter, healthcare or protection of the vulnerable senior.
- Emotional Abuse. Causing mental pain, anguish, or distress to a senior through verbal or non-verbal acts that can cause humiliation, intimidation, or a threat to the senior.
- Desertion of a senior by anyone who has responsibility for the care or custody of that person.
- Self-neglect. Failure of a person to perform essential self-care tasks that could threaten his or her life.
Senior abuse can happen to anyone and can occur anywhere; in a person’s home, in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and even in hospitals. Factors that increase a senior’s vulnerability are isolation, loneliness, physical or mental disabilities, and lack of familiarity with financial matters. Surprisingly the mistreatment is most often perpetrated by the individual’s own family members.
Family members should be vigilant as to warning signs of senior abuse. Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse. Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities or unusual depression may be an indicator of emotional abuse. Bedsores, poor hygiene and unfilled prescriptions could be caused by neglect. Strained relationships and frequent arguments between the caregivers and the senior can be a form of emotional abuse. Desertion of the vulnerable senior by the person responsible for care is abandonment.
Financial abuse in the senior community is common and sometimes is difficult to detect until after it’s been done. It can include forging checks, taking someone else’s retirement and social security benefits, and the unauthorized use of credit cards. It also includes changing names on a will, bank accounts, life insurance policy, or title to a house. Some of the indicators of financial abuse are unpaid bills, withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts that the senior cannot explain, bank statements and cancelled checks no longer coming to the senior’s house, and the development of “new best friends”. Many seniors are also unsophisticated about financial matters and advances in technology have made managing finances more complicated. No single indication can be taken as conclusive evidence because there may be plausible reasons other than financial abuse, but if there is a pattern or cluster it could suggest a pattern.
Family members and friends who are not the caregivers of the senior can help to prevent abuse. Watch for warning signs that indicate elder abuse. Scan bank accounts and credit card statement for unauthorized transactions. Call and visit frequently so the senior will open up about abusive behavior.
Senior abuse will not stop on its own! Someone else needs to step in and help. Many seniors will not report abuse because they are ashamed to report mistreatment or they are afraid it will get back to the abuser and make the situation worse. If you suspect senior abuse, report it. To report suspected abuse, contact your local protective services agency, or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.