Elderly people are at special risk for certain types of abuse because they are often physically frail and may not have the mental capacity to stand up for themselves. What is elder abuse and how can concerned family members prevent it? A closer look at what is considered elder abuse can provide answers for some of these confusing questions.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Department on Aging defines elder abuse as any knowing, intentional or negligent act that causes harm or risk of harm to a vulnerable elderly person. These acts may be performed by others caring for the elderly person or may be done by the elderly person himself or herself. A number of different categories can comprise what is considered elder abuse and neglect, including:
Â· Physical abuse — slapping, bruising or restraining the elderly person
Â· Emotional abuse — humiliating, threatening, intimidating or disparaging the elderly person
Â· Sexual abuse — taking sexual advantage of the elderly person through non-consensual acts
Â· Neglect — failing to provide necessary care to the elder, such as shelter, food, medical care or safety.
Â· Abandonment — deserting an elderly person that is in need of ongoing care Â· Exploitation — misusing money, property or other assets of an elderly person without their knowledge or consent
Â· Self-neglect — when the elderly person fails to do basic self-care that can endanger their health or safety
The unfortunate fact is that, in many cases, a family member is responsible for the abuse of an elderly person. In other cases the abuser is a staff member of an institution that cares for the elderly. The abuser may be the person that provides daily care for the senior. The caregiver may take advantage of the power they have over the elderly person. They may become short-tempered with the elderly person, strike them, push them or verbally abuse the elderly. They may take advantage of them financially or sexually. In some cases, grandchildren are the perpetrators of abuse. They may steal money from the elderly person, put charges on their credit cards, physically intimidate them into handing over money or manipulate them into signing financial paperwork.
Eldercare experts recommend that concerned family members watch for a number of signs that may indicate that elder abuse is occurring:
Â· Unexplained bruises, cuts, abrasions, broken bones or burns can be a sign of physical mistreatment.
Â· Bruises around the breasts or genitals may indicate incidences of sexual abuse.
Â· Sudden withdrawal from social activities or other activities the elder previously enjoyed.
Â· Emotional withdrawal or depression can be a sign of abuse.
Â· Unexplained changes in financial condition can indicate abuse.
Â· Belittling of the person is a sign of emotional abuse.
Â· Frequent arguing or tension between the elderly person and caregiver can indicate incidences of abuse.
Â· Healthcare fraud can also be a form of elder abuse, when unscrupulous medical personnel under or over medicate, perform unnecessary procedures or fail to provide adequate care.
Consequences of Elder Abuse
Experiencing abuse can be extremely damaging to older people. Because of their physical frailty, they can suffer severe injuries that can threaten their health and their lives. Emotional abuse can cause elderly people to withdraw from normal interactions. They can become mentally confused, unable to follow normal conversations and may withdraw into silence, fearing further intimidation. Counseling may be necessary to ensure their continued mental health. Financial abuse can cause severe alterations in the elder’s lifestyle. The elder may not be able to provide for his or her own care and may need state assistance.
What To Do If You Suspect Abuse
If you suspect that the elderly person is in imminent danger, experts advise calling 9-11 immediately to involve the authorities. Getting an Adult Protective Services agency involved will stop the abuse immediately and begin the process of getting help for the elderly person. This measure may involve getting the person out of the current environment and into one that can provide better or more intensive care. If the elder is in a facility of some type, calling the state agency that provides an ombudsman can help to resolve the problem at an official level. Always be sure to follow up to make sure that the elder has received the supervisory care that he or she requires.
What Can Be Done To Protect Elders Against Abuse?
Many family members are not aware of what is elder abuse and how to recognize the signs in their elders. Frequent monitoring of their physical and mental condition can be the most effective way to prevent incidences of elder abuse from occurring or continuing. Visiting the elder will allow you to notice any changes in physical or emotional condition from one visit to another. Interacting with the elder person can indicate changes in mental state that may occur because of abuse. Taking the elder out of the home situation to go to lunch or shopping can get them to open up about financial or health problems that may be caused by an abusive situation.
Agencies That Deal With Elder Abuse
Many states have instituted bureaus that handle the problem of elder abuse. These agencies can provide legal aid and referrals for removing the elderly person from a hazardous environment, as well as medical and emotional care for the person when necessary. Agencies that deal with elder care have broad experience of the problems of abuse cases and can intervene when the problem is caused by other family members or when institutions are involved in the incidence of abuse. Many elder abuse agencies have a hotline number that can be called when immediate intervention is indicated. These are just a few of the agencies that work to prevent elder abuse:
Â· National Center on Elder Abuse
Â· National Institute on Aging
Â· State Adult Protective Services Agencies (individual states)
Â· State Elder Abuse Reporting Bureaus
Â· Long-Term Care Ombudsman Agencies
Â· Church and Faith-Based Agencies