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Understanding When to Call Adult Protective Services

Experts believe that as many as one in ten seniors has been the victim of elder abuse . An equally troubling statistic is, that in 90% of these cases, a member of the family is the abuser. For older adults with Alzheimer’s disease, abuse is even more common. Almost half have been abused by a family member or caregiver. 

Recognizing the signs a senior is being victimized and understanding what you can do to help is important to reversing the alarming statistics on elder abuse. In many cases, getting help for an older adult who is being abused begins with a call to Adult Protective Services. 

What Constitutes Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse can take many forms. In general, there are six categories abuse falls into:

  • Physical
  • Financial
  • Emotional
  • Verbal
  • Sexual
  • Neglect or abandonment

Vulnerable seniors can be victims of one or more of these types of abuse. 

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

The warning signs that may indicate a senior is being abused include more than cuts and bruises. Other less obvious red flags that can signal an older adult is being abused include:

  • Strange-looking skin markings such as burns, friction marks and welts.
  • Having frequent, hard-to-explain wounds and injuries.
  • Appearing to be anxious and fearful around a family member or caregiver.
  • Withdrawing from social activities, family outings, hobbies and even from religious services.
  • Change in personal appearance such as unintentional weight loss, poor hygiene and grooming, or soiled clothing.
  • Calls or letters from creditors and bill collectors about unpaid accounts despite having adequate income.
  • An older adult’s lack of knowledge about their finances or inability to explain purchases on their credit card or the purpose for multiple ATM withdrawals.
  • Unexplainable genital infections or diseases. 

Behaviors That Can Indicate Someone is an Abuser

There are some behaviors that are common among family members or caregivers who are abusing an older adult. They include:

  • Not allowing other family members and friends to visit with the older adult when they aren’t present.
  • Spending habits that seem inconsistent with the income of a caregiver.
  • Talking on the senior’s behalf instead of allowing them to speak for themselves. 

How to Help If You Suspect Elder Abuse

If you believe an older adult is being abused, the first thing to do is determine if they are in immediate jeopardy. If you think they are, call 911 without delay. It is the fastest way for authorities to intervene and get the help the senior needs.

There are several other steps you can take to report abuse:

  • Most states have a Department of Aging and Disability Services. They are a resource for providing social services for seniors. These agencies can provide you with more information and advice.
  • Every state has an Adult Protective Service (APS) agency. You can report your suspicions to your APS local office and they are required by law to follow up. The agency will visit the older adult so they can assess the situation in person.

One final note is to be aware of is that in most states you can file a good-faith elder abuse report confidentially without fear of retaliation.