Elders and Abuse
When someone hears terms like neglect, exploitation, physical abuse, mental/emotional abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, they probably don’t connect them to the seniors in their life. Our elders have always been the rocks we rely on. Our parents, uncles, aunts, neighbor, boss, or teacher has been the person we looked up to and counted on. To think that as they age, they are vulnerable to abuse, is a startling realization.
Sadly, 5 million people over the age of 60 experience abuse every year. Roughly 1 in 10 senior adults. Worse, 93% of elder abuse goes unreported.1 If you are in contact with a senior, be mindful of the indicators of abuse. We all have a role to play to protect vulnerable adults.
Any strange or sudden changes to an older adult’s behavior is a warning sign. Changes in a senior’s mental state, physical appearance or capability, or unusual financial changes are worth investigating. If you uncover abuse, take immediate action.
Elders often fall prey to mail solicitations and fundraising efforts. While not necessarily illegal, it's not unusual to find out that your family member has been sending out hundreds of dollars a month in charitable donations or magazine orders. Other types of money “lending” may trip into an abusive situation.
Neglect can take the form of dehydration or missed medications. Poor nutrition or skipped meals, leading to weight loss or health problems is also problematic. These situations, if caught early, can help an elder from further spiraling into anxiety or depression because of the abuse.
In the state of Maryland, it is required to report suspected abuse to the office of social services (DSS) or by calling 1-800-332-6347 2. Much like laws protecting children, our vulnerable adults need protection through legal recourse as well. Professionals such as the police, medical providers, and human service workers must report suspected abuse. Abuse can come from many sources, it’s not always a care provider, or a family member causing the abuse, and the abuser may not be aware that what they are doing constitutes abuse, especially in the area around neglect.
Fortunately, good tools have been developed to help families and friends identify signs and symptoms of elder abuse.
Use this checklist “Suspect Neglect of an Older Adult: What to do?” from the NCEA and the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA).3
Indicators of elder abuse:
- Emotional & Behavioral Signs
- Increased fear or anxiety
- Isolation from friends and family
- Unusual changes in behavior or sleep
- Withdrawal from normal activities
- Physical Signs
- Dehydration or unusual weight loss
- Unattended medical needs
- Unexplained injuries, bruises, cuts, or sores
- Unsanitary living conditions, poor hygiene, or torn or bloody underclothing
- Financial Signs
- Fraudulent signatures on financial documents
- Unusual or sudden changes in spending patterns, will, or other financial documents
- Unpaid bills
In addition to staying observant, there are other things individuals and families can do to prevent abuse from occurring. Here are five core recommendations from Maryland Department of Aging: 4
- Listen to older people and caregivers to understand their challenges and provide support
- Educate one another about the signs of abuse and how to get help
- Report suspected abuse or neglect as soon as possible
- Build a community that fosters social connections and supports
- Reach out to professional services for support where available
So, while we may think our favorite people are cared for and secure, there are many ways for them to suffer or be exposed to abuse. Stay mindful. Helping to build a community of social connections and support is something we can all do.
Resources and References:
1. Maryland.Gov https://aging.maryland.gov/Pages/elder-abuse-prevention.aspx
Adult Protective Services
4. Maryland Department of Aging https://aging.maryland.gov/Pages/elder-abuse-prevention.aspx