Every year, over five million Americans suffer from elder abuse. Even though this abuse is widespread, it usually goes unreported. And the victims of elder abuse don’t just suffer abuse – their risk of death is increased threefold as a consequence of their suffering. That’s why knowing how to detect and report the signs of elder abuse is unfortunately a skill we all need to develop.
What is Elder Abuse?
There are many types of elder abuse, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Elder abuse can also include financial exploitation, neglect, and abandonment. In more than half of all cases, the perpetrator is a spouse, child, or another family member. That may be why as few as 7% of elder abuse cases are reported. The good news is that the rate that these crimes are being reported has been improving over the past few years and people are becoming more aware of elderly in peril and understanding the importance of reporting instances in a timely manner.
The Elder Justice Act
To combat these remarkably high rates of elder abuse, the Elder Justice Act was signed into law in 2010. As the largest federal directive of its kind, this law authorized funding for Adult Protective Services Programs, as well as elder abuse forensic centers for law enforcement. Additionally, it established a national database for caregiver background checks, and legally required all elder abuse crimes to be reported to law enforcement.
And while these programs are a big step in the right direction, it still takes vigilance to use them and stop abuse. Some of the best elder abuse prevention requires little more than a conversation with your loved ones.
Warning Signs of Elder Abuse
The two most significant risk factors for elder abuse are mental impairment and isolation. Having impaired mental abilities can leave a senior vulnerable to neglect or abuse, particularly in cases of dementia. In these instances, an abusive caregiver or other person close to a senior with dementia may take advantage of their diminished faculties, subjecting them to abuse since they may be less inclined or less able to report it, or because even if they do report it, their cries for help may be dismissed by others as a delusion associated with their illness.
Adults with disabilities are more likely to suffer from interpersonal violence. In short, the most defenseless amongst us are at the highest risk of being abused.
Given the prevalence of elder abuse, it’s important to keep an eye out for the warning signs. A sudden change in financial situation can be an indication of elder abuse, especially for those on a fixed income.
Bedsores, burns, bruises, abrasions, poor hygiene, social withdrawal – these are all potentially signs of elder abuse, as well. Although you can become depressed or bruised without abuse, it’s never a good idea to ignore these warnings signs, especially if they’re recurring.
For an immediate threat, always dial 911. To report long-term mistreatment and exploitation of the elderly, you should contact your long-term care ombudsman, Adult Protective Services, or similar regional resource.
You can document evidence of the abuse that will be useful to authorities, but you don’t need to prove someone is being abused to report your suspicion. If you suspect someone is being abused, don’t wait, call the authorities immediately. Your report itself is enough to prompt professionals to investigate. Given how dangerous elder abuse can be, your report just might save a life.
Do you know of any additional resources that may be helpful in reporting cases of elder abuse? We’d appreciate it if you could share your knowledge on this important topic in the comments below.