Unfortunately, elder abuse isn't a minor problem. Studies have shown that over two million elder Americans are victims of elder abuse, while for every case of abuse reported, as many as five go unreported. As a caregiver for elder adults, nothing can be as disheartening than the suspicion that someone is the victim of abuse. But understanding - and recognizing - the signs of abuse can keep it from becoming an ongoing problem. While such abuse can take many forms, it can usually be classified under these categories: physical, sexual, psychological, financial, and neglect.
The use of physical force that results in injury, pain or impairment is a broad definition of physical abuse. Like abuse in general, it can take many forms, including hitting, shoving, slapping, shaking, kicking, pinching and burning. Signs of physical abuse include:
- Injuries with no easily explainable cause that are incompatible with the victim's medical history, such as cuts, lacerations, bruises, welts and discoloration.
- Injuries that appear to have been caused by cigarettes, caustics, or friction from ropes, chains or other objects.
- Injuries in areas covered by clothing.
- A combination of new and old injuries.
- Denial of an injured state.
Sadly, this form of abuse happens in older adults. Signs of it include genital or anal infections, difficulty while walking or sitting, or bruising of the inner thighs.
This type of abuse can be harder to detect than others, in part because it can be part of other aging, medical, mental or physical problems. But it can be detected by observing the actions of others, including family members. Are threats being made to an elderly parent? Or, perhaps someone speaks poorly of the person on a consistent basis, or ignores him or her and their needs. The victim, meanwhile, may seem depressed or withdrawn, or unwilling to talk openly and freely.
Financial abuse is not an insignificant problem, as studies have shown that 12 percent of all elderly abuse is of this kind. It can be defined as improper or illegal use of an elder's assets, and it can entail:
- Social security or pension checks cashed without permission.
- Coercing or deceiving the elder into parting with money or property.
- Diverting guardianship assets.
- A family member who is not willing to pay for an elder's basic needs when money is available.
- A warning sign could involve a family member who persistently seeks financial control while being financially stressed themselves. Or, also if bank statements are no longer coming to the victim's home.
Neglect can take many forms, including not providing food, medicines, hygiene, or even personal safety. Signs of neglect include:
- Neglected bedsores, skin conditions or rashes.
- Untreated injuries or other medical issues.
- Hunger, malnutrition or dehydration.
- Poor hygiene
- Lack of clean clothing and bedding.
- Poor skin condition
- An excessively dirty environment than may smell of feces or urine.
It's important to know the most common types of elder abuse and the forms they take. It's also important to note that people who suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia are at a greater risk of abuse and neglect. As a caregiver, understanding the signs and facts of elder abuse can help stop and prevent it.