Signs of Elder Abuse: Physical, Mental, and Financial Warning Signals
Is someone taking advantage of someone you love? June 15 is World Elder Abuse Prevention Day, a day to call attention to a crisis that may become even more common as baby boomers enter the “third acts” of their lives.1
Elder abuse has increased in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the rate of assaults on men aged 60 and older rose 75% from 2002-2016; the murder rate for this demographic rose 7% during 2010-2016. Additionally, assaults on women aged 60 and up increased by 35% from 2007-2016.2
Many elders are afraid or unable to speak out about what is happening to them. In some cases, the abuse is limited to financial exploitation. In other cases, it may include neglect and physical or emotional cruelty.
What should you watch out for? Different varieties of elder abuse have different signals, some less obvious than others.
Neglect. This is commonly defined as withholding or failing to supply necessities of daily living to an elder, from food, water, and appropriate clothing to necessary hygiene and medicines. Signals are easily detectable and include physical signs such as bedsores, malnutrition and dehydration, and flawed living conditions (i.e., faulty electrical wiring, fleas or cockroaches, and inadequate heat or air conditioning).
Neglect may also take financial form. A relative may avoid paying for an elder’s assisted living, nursing home care, or at-home health care. Or, an in-home eldercare service provider may fail to provide a sufficient degree or frequency of care.
Abandonment. This occurs when a caregiver or responsible party flat-out deserts an elder – dropping him or her off at a nursing home, a hospital, or even a bus or train station with no plans to return. Hopefully, the elder has the presence of mind to call for help, but if not, a tragic situation will quickly worsen. When an elderly person seems to stay in one place for hours and appears confused or deserted, it is time to get to the bottom of what just happened for their safety.
Physical abuse. Bruises and lacerations are evident signals, but other indicators are less evident: sprains and dislocations, cracked eyeglass lenses, impressions on the arms or legs from restraints, too-much or too-little medication, or a strange reticence, silence, fearfulness, or other behavioral changes in the individual.
Emotional or psychological abuse. How do you know if an elder has been verbally degraded, tormented, threatened in your absence, or left in isolation? If the elder is not willing or able to let you know about such wrongdoing, watch for signals, such as withdrawal from conversation or communication, agitation or distress, and repetitive or obsessive-compulsive actions linked to dementia, such as rocking, biting, or sucking.
Financial abuse. When an unscrupulous relative, friend, or other party uses an elder’s funds, property, or assets illegally or dishonestly, this is financial exploitation. It can take different forms, all the way from simply withdrawing an elder’s savings with his or her ATM card to forgery to improperly assuming conservatorship or power of attorney.
How do you spot it? Delve into the elder’s financial life and see if you detect things like strange ATM withdrawals or account activity, additional names on a bank signature card, changes to beneficiary forms, or the sudden absence of collectibles or valuables.
Examine signatures on financial transactions – on closer examination, do they appear to be authentic or studied forgeries? Have assets been inexplicably transferred to long-uninvolved heirs or relatives – or worse yet, apparent strangers? Have eldercare bills gone unpaid recently? Is the level of eldercare being provided oddly slipshod, given the financial resources being devoted to it?
Whether elder abuse is intentional or unintentional, the harm done can be shameful. So, talk to or check in on your parents, grandparents, siblings, or other elders you know to ensure they are free from mistreatment.
Toby J Selby may be reached at (870) 336-2121 or email@example.com.
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1 - un.org/en/events/elderabuse/ [5/9/19]
2 - usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2019-04-04/elder-abuse-on-the-rise-in-america [4/4/19]