Experts tell us that one in ten seniors is the victim of physical or emotional abuse. While the documented instances of elder abuse tops the five million mark in the U.S. alone, the Elder Justice Coalition believes only one in twenty-four cases is actually reported.
This victimization occurs across all socioeconomic groups. The late actor Mickey Rooney’s abuse at the hands of his stepson was well-documented. It led him to testify before Congress about his abuse in 2011 and the courts to award him with a $2.9 million judgment against his stepson.
As Mr. Rooney experienced firsthand, in 90% of all elder abuse cases, a family member is the abuser. The numbers are even more startling when an older adult has Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia. More than half of people living with Alzheimer’s have been abused at the hands of a professional or family caregiver.
The financial impact of elder abuse is significant. Estimates are that financial abuse costs seniors $2.9 billion a year. Direct medical expenses for elders who have been abused exceeds $5 billion every year.
The Types of Elder Abuse
Most people understand what physical and financial abuse of a senior is, but there are actually a total of seven different types of elder abuse. According to the American Psychological Association, abuse of an older adult includes:
- Physical abuse
- Financial abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
Warning Signs that May Indicate Elder Abuse
Some types of abuse are more easily spotted while others may go undetected until it is too late. Learning to recognize the signs that indicate a senior is in trouble can help authorities intervene in time to turn the situation around.
Here are some of the most common indicators of elder abuse:
- Frequent, suspicious-looking injuries including friction marks, burns, welts on the skin, puncture marks and tearing of the skin
- Soiled clothing and poor personal hygiene
- Withdrawing from favorite pastimes, hobbies, religious organization and social clubs
- Bruising in private areas and/or unexplained genital diseases or infections
- Senior who appears timid, fearful or anxious around a caregiver or family member
- Past due bills piling up and/or calls from creditors or debt collection agencies
- Home is messy or unclean with trash, dirty dishes or laundry piled up
- Unusual charges on a senior’s credit cards and/or frequent, unexplained ATM withdrawals
- Senior appears malnourished, dehydrated or to have lost weight unintentionally
A caregiver’s own behavior can sometimes be another way to detect abuse. Behaviors that may indicate a problem include:
- Restricting Visitors: Preventing friends and family from visiting or not allowing visits unless the caregiver is present can be a troubling behavior. An abuser may overtly restrict visitors or do so more subtly, such as claiming the senior is sleeping when a friend stops by or that they won’t be home at the time a loved one wants to come for a visit.
- Speaking for the Senior: When a caregiver routinely talks for an elder or interrupts the conversation to answer for them, it can be a red flag for abuse.
- Large Purchases by Caregiver: If the family or professional caregiver has been making large ticket purchases that don’t seem consistent with their income, there may be a problem. Financial abuse is one of the most common types of elder abuse.
How You Can Help
If you suspect an older adult is being abused, get involved. Don’t ignore the problem. Because seniors are most often abused by family members or caregivers, they may have no one to turn to for help. It is important to report your suspicions even anonymously.
If you fear the senior is in immediate danger of being harmed, call 911. Police officers can intervene quickly.
There are several other steps you can take:
- Call your local office of the Adult Protective Services (APS). They are required by law to make an in-person visit to investigate all claims of elder abuse.
- If you are concerned that a family member is being physically, emotionally or sexually abused, get them to a doctor or an emergency room. A routine exam will usually help confirm or alleviate your fears.
- Should your worries be about financial abuse, review your senior loved one’s credit card and bank statements. Look for unusual activity including large purchases or frequent cash withdrawals.
If you would like to get involved in the fight against elder abuse there are several organizations dedicated to the cause. The National Center on Elder Abuse and the Elder Justice Coalition both welcome volunteer advocates.