Elder abuse can happen to anyone — from the most vital senior citizen to an older adult who is infirm or relegated to a wheelchair. One of the most common varieties of elder abuse is domestic elder abuse, in which an older person is mistreated by a person with whom they share a significant relationship — such as their adult child, a family friend, caregiver, or even a spouse or sibling.
The National Center on Elder Abuse, estimates that 90% of all elder abuse cases involve family members and that only one out of every 14 cases of elder abuse is brought to the attention of the proper authorities. Many older adults are either unable to report that they are being abused, or refuse to report abuse for fear of getting a loved one in trouble.
How to Detect Elder Abuse: 5 Warning Signs
There are many warning signs which can indicate physical, emotional — and even financial — neglect and abuse. Pay close attention to your loved one’s behavior if you suspect that they may be a victim of elder abuse. Here are five warning signs of elder abuse that may indicate that they are potentially being abused.
1. Noticeable Weight Loss – If your loved one is ill or has a medical condition that can cause their body weight to fluctuate, then this is obviously something to take into account. However, if you have seen a marked decrease in their physical appearance, it could mean their nutritional needs have not been met. Malnutrition is extremely dangerous, especially for the elderly, as it weakens the immune system and makes the body highly susceptible to injury and disease.
2. Bruises – While there could be many causes for a bruise on your loved one’s arm or leg, you need to know for sure whether or not it was caused by physical harm. These wounds heal much more slowly in the elderly and infirm, so keep in mind that they could be from an event that occurred days or weeks ago.
3. Unusual spending / valuables missing – Elder abuse isn’t just limited to physical abuse. In fact, the Administration On Aging cites financial exploitation as one facet of elder abuse. Some of the warning signs of financial elder abuse is a visible lack of amenities available to an older person. Shabby clothing, lack of personal care items, or even a lack of a television set and other comfort objects can signal financial abuse. Similarly, if valuable items such as silverware, jewelry, or family heirlooms have gone missing, this can be a sign of financial abuse, as can stacks of unpaid bills when a designated family member has neglected to take care of these matters on behalf of their elder.
4. Social Isolation – If a family member, spouse, or person in charge of an older loved one restricts other relatives’ access to speaking with or visiting with them, this can be a warning sign of elder abuse. If you’re repeatedly denied contact with an older loved one while he or she is in the care of another, this can raise a red flag. Check with other family members to see if they have been given similar reasons for a loved one’s inability or unwillingness to speak with you. If different relatives are given different stories, it may be a sign that your loved one is a possible victim of elder abuse.
5. Fearful or Withdrawn Behavior – Sometimes, the signs of elder abuse aren’t readily visible, such as in the case of marks, burns, bruises, or even financial abuse. In some cases, evidence of neglect may appear in the form of unusual behavior that seems out of character for your older loved one. Although it could be a sign of dementia or another form of illness, do not completely discount your loved one acting angry, fearful or retreating into themselves and shunning conversation. These unexplained changes in behavior may mark them as a possible victim of elder abuse.
Sadly, elder abuse happens more often than people like to think. When in doubt, take immediate action to protect your loved one from further harm if this may indeed be the case. If you suspect an older friend, relative, or loved one may be the victim of elder abuse, please call 911 if they appear to be in immediate danger. Depending upon the state you live in, you can contact your state’s Adult Protective Services (APS) agency to help intervene.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to be sure that elderly adults receive the proper care, treatment, and respect they deserve.
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For more information, please review our Elder Abuse Resources.